Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) is largely associated with age- or noise-related hearing loss.
People with subjective tinnitus hear disquieting sounds, such as ringing, buzzing, and humming, that are imperceptible to others. This condition becomes more common as people age and begin to lose their hearing.
In contrast, tinnitus associated with TMJ disorders typically affects a younger demographic. It’s also more common in people who were assigned female at birth than those who were assigned male at birth.
In this article, we explore the connection between tinnitus and TMJ disorders. We also discuss potential treatments that may provide relief for both conditions.
TMJs connect your lower jaw (mandible) to your skull on both sides of your face. These joints are located directly in front of your ears. Your TMJs support the jaw muscles needed for eating, yawning, and speaking.
Causes of TMJ disorders
TMJ disorders are caused by inflammation or irritation of the ligaments and muscles surrounding the joints.
Potential causes include:
- grinding teeth during sleep (bruxism)
- arthritis in the jaw
- trauma to the head or neck
- malocclusion (having an overbite or underbite)
- dislocation of the TMJ disk
Symptoms of TMJ disorders
Symptoms of TMJ disorders include:
- clicking or popping sound in jaw
- pain in the jaw and ear
- difficulty opening your mouth
- jaws that lock in an open or closed position
A part in the inner ear called the cochlea transforms sound waves into electrical impulses that the brain translates into recognizable sounds. Damage to the hair cells in the cochlea is a catalyst for tinnitus.
Because the cochlea is located next to the temporomandibular joint, irritation and inflammation in the joint may damage the cochlea and other parts of the inner ear. This may cause subjective tinnitus.
Subjective vs objective tinnitus
Subjective tinnitus is the most common form of tinnitus. Noises are heard only by a person with tinnitus and are not generated by an exterior sound source.
Objective tinnitus is a rarer form of tinnitus. The sounds are typically caused by internal circulatory functions (blood flow) or defects in the structures of the ear. The sounds may be loud enough to be heard by another person.
Tinnitus in this group tends to be severe and accompanied by pain, pressure, and high levels of stress.
Accompanying symptoms include:
- neck pain
- poor quality of life
Tinnitus related to TMJ disorders is sometimes referred to as a type of somatic tinnitus. Somatic tinnitus is defined as tinnitus that’s caused by a musculoskeletal problem.
Researchers involved in a
Research data from as far back as 1997 found that treating TMJ disorders helps alleviate tinnitus in people with both conditions. However,
Even so, the American Tinnitus Association is in favor of treating TMJ disorders to alleviate tinnitus that’s caused by problems with the joint.
Possible treatments for TMJ disorders
There are several types of treatments for TMJ disorders that may help alleviate both tinnitus and jaw pain. These include:
- medications, such as muscle relaxants and antidepressants
- a soft food diet
- dental treatments, including bite realignment
- mouth guards to prevent tooth grinding
- oral splints to realign the eardrum
- physical therapy to stretch and strengthen jaw muscles
- corticosteroid injections into the joint
- minimally invasive surgical procedures, such as arthrocentesis
- open joint surgery (arthrotomy)
TMJ disorders and tinnitus are challenging conditions that can negatively affect your quality of life. Whether you have TMJ disorders or symptoms of tinnitus in one or both ears, talk with a doctor. This is especially important if you’re having difficulty keeping up with daily activities, or if you feel anxious or depressed.
Treatments exist for both tinnitus and TMJ disorders.
TMJ disorders are often treated by a dental professional. Talk with your current healthcare professional about the type of specialist who’s best suited to treat your symptoms.
Research suggests TMJ disorders are a cause of tinnitus in some instances. People who have both conditions tend to be younger than the average tinnitus patient.
People assigned female at birth also seem to be more affected by TMJ disorders and accompanying tinnitus than people assigned male at birth.
When tinnitus is caused by TMJ disorders, treatments specific to this cause may help alleviate symptoms.
Talk with your doctor or dentist about potential treatments and which may be best suited for you.