Is it Tinnitus or TMJ?

Over 50 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, a condition that causes a temporary or permanent tone in the ear that can sound like a whistle, a roar, or a musical pitch. The number of those affected is likely much higher, as many people simply do not recognize their tinnitus as a problem. Though technology and treatment options are available to address tinnitus, it often goes unacknowledged for years until the constant sound becomes debilitating. As with almost all concerns regarding the ear and hearing, early treatment is the most effective way to combat tinnitus and prevent it from worsening.

Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) is the result of a damaged shock-absorbing disk which connects the bones in a major joint of your jaw. When this disk is dislocated or worn, it can cause pain in the face and jaw. Because this joint is in front of the ear, it allows us to make facial movements such as chewing, smiling, and speaking. When this area is weakened, the effects can be felt in other areas of the face, particularly the ear.

Over time, the stress put on the joint can lead to tinnitus symptoms that may or may not be accompanied by hearing loss. Those with arthritis or a recent jaw injury, as well as those who have a history of grinding or clenching their teeth while they sleep are all at an increased risk of developing TMJ.

One way to tell if TMJ may be causing your ear ringing is to open your mouth wide and listen for any changes in the tinnitus tone. If so, this demonstrates that a nerve issue, not a sensory one, has likely caused the tinnitus. If you have noticed a ringing that won’t go away and also experience some degree of facial discomfort, you should consult a dentist or hearing care professional to examine your jaw or ear. In most cases, a dentist will order you a custom-fitted mouth guard that is worn at night to prevent damage from teeth clenching and to alleviate symptoms of facial pain. As the condition improves, tinnitus symptoms will likely diminish.

Nearly half of those who identify as having TMJ report tinnitus as one of their symptoms. Fortunately, approximately 90 percent of these patients were able to successfully reduce their tinnitus tone with treatment. If you are concerned about developing TMJ, schedule an appointment with your dentist to have them examine your bite for any issues that need correcting. For those already experiencing symptoms, one of the easiest tinnitus home remedies is simply to relax, as the physical tension caused by stress and anxiety are known to worsen TMJ. In other cases, an ice pack or an NSAID pain reliever should provide temporary relief.

Don’t wait for your tinnitus to become distracting before you address it—use our online locator to schedule an appointment with a hearing care professional today so you can keep your hearing at its best.