close up of woman holding her ear Ringing in the ears, commonly referred to as tinnitus, is a condition that plagues many individuals for a number of reasons. There are several conditions that can create ringing in the ears. The causes range from traumatic injury to auditory nerves to certain medications that can cause ringing in the ears. The problem may also be caused by hypertension or some heart problems. A less obvious cause of ringing in the ears is temporomandibular joint disorders, called TMJ or TMD. San Jose TMJ dentist Dr. Nancy Nehawandian can help you determine whether this jaw problem is causing or contributing to your tinnitus.

What Is TMJ?

TMJ is a condition that affects one’s ability to comfortably open and close their mouth due to problems in the joints, muscles, and/or nerves of the jaw. It’s most often caused by injury, but damaged, decayed, or broken teeth; genetics; an under-developed jaw due to allergies as a child, or nighttime teeth grinding can also be the culprit.  Any of these factors can cause a person’s bite to become unbalanced. An unbalanced bite puts undue strain on your jaw muscles as the jaw joint fights for balance.

When your jaw muscles fatigue, they call on your face, head, and neck muscles to help out.  Over time, this can result in a pile of tense, overworked muscles.  The painful symptoms that TMJ causes, such as headaches, neck pain, ear pain and ringing in the ears, can be directly related to those tight muscles or by the compressed nerves that run through them.

While TMJ can be hard to diagnose, a San Jose TMJ dentist has the tools and training to distinguish the condition from others, helping you to get effective treatment.

How the Jaw, the Ear, and the Neck Are Connected

How can tense and overworked jaw muscles lead to tinnitus? This might seem mysterious at first, but San Jose TMJ dentist Dr. Nancy Nehawandian understands how the body is connected into a single integrated whole.

First, it’s important to know that the temporomandibular joint is named after the two bones that make it up: the temporal bone and the mandible (jaw). The temporal bone also houses your middle and inner ear. Stress on the temporomandibular joint is putting pressure on the ear. This pressure can lead to ringing in the ears (tinnitus). It’s part of the reason you can make a tooth record player. Tinnitus might worsen as the temporal bone wears down from joint pressure.

There’s another important connection, too. In the past, common evolutionary ancestors between reptiles and mammals had more bones in their jaw and fewer bones in their ears. Over time, mammals adapted some of these jaw bones to become ear bones to help with hearing. Called the malleus and incus; you might remember them from elementary school anatomy as the hammer and anvil. These tiny bones still retain some of their connections to the jaw. When the jaw gets stressed, tension can pull on these bones, making them create sounds.

Jaw muscles and neck muscles work together to perform the difficult task of holding the head upright. As the jaw muscles get stressed, they do less of their part, and the neck muscles have to work harder. Sometimes jaw imbalance can be so bad that the jaw muscles and neck muscles are literally working against each other. All this creates neck pain. It might seem as if neck pain is causing ringing in your ears, but often jaw problems play a role in this not-so-silent partnership.

Getting the Right Diagnosis for Tinnitus

Finding a definitive cause for ringing in the ears can often be difficult. Many times it is more the process of elimination as opposed to finding a definitive diagnosis through certain diagnostic tests. There are many potential causes of tinnitus, and your doctor might help you eliminate them.

You should suspect that TMJ might play a role in your tinnitus if any of the following are true:

  • You have other TMJ symptoms
  • Ringing in the ears flares up after heavy jaw activity
  • You can modulate your tinnitus by moving your jaw
  • You have eliminated other likely tinnitus causes

Although people rarely have all TMJ symptoms, they almost never have just one. If you have jaw popping and clicking, headaches, irregular jaw motion, neck pain, or other TMJ symptoms, see a San Jose TMJ dentist for evaluation of your tinnitus.

With TMJ-related tinnitus, jaw activity often causes a flare-up. Eating tough or challenging foods, talking a lot, smiling for a long time, or clenching your teeth because of stress commonly stress your jaw. Similarly, many (but not all) people with TMJ-related tinnitus can change the sound by moving their jaw.

As we mentioned before, we might have to diagnose TMJ-related tinnitus by eliminating other causes. However, if your doctor diagnosed you with Ménière’s disease, this might still be TMJ-related ear symptoms.

Help for Tinnitus Sufferers in San Jose

A San Jose/Los Gatos dentist trained in neuromuscular dentistry could be just the solution you’re looking for.  Because a TMJ problem is caused by an unbalanced bite, they are best positioned to evaluate your jaw and its muscles and nerves. They are armed with modern diagnostic equipment, an in-depth understanding of how the muscles, nerves, and joints of your jaw need to work in unison, and various treatment options ranging from a ULF-TENS machine to dental restorative of damaged or missing teeth,

Find TMJ Treatment in Los Gatos

For anyone who experiences ringing in the ears and suspects that TMJ may be the problem, it is imperative to visit a well qualified dentist in San Jose/Los Gatos by calling (408) 354-5600. TMJ is a painful condition that interferes with daily life, and ringing in the ears is one more reason to be evaluated as promptly as possible so that treatment can be started. It will arm you with information that just might help you alleviate your ringing in the ears.