TMJ Dysfunction, otherwise known as TMJ disorder or TMD, is a common condition that affects the hinges joint of the jaw. This joint is located just in front of the ear, and it controls functions as diverse as chewing, talking, and yawning. TMJ Dysfunction also affects the muscles and ligaments that surround the joint or are attached to it. The disorder affects approximately 35 million Americans, making it a vast disaster disorder that requires expert attention. It can cause jaw and facial pain, clicking or popping sounds upon opening the mouth, and headaches, among other things. According to statistics, almost half of people with TMD also suffer from tinnitus, a ringing or whooshing sound in the ears that has no identifiable external source.
There are a couple of reasons why TMJ and tinnitus and are often related:
1. The nerves. In some cases, the pain from a TMD can interfere with normal hearing, because the nerves of the joint and the ears share common pathways. This condition is also known as “central crosstalk,” since both head, neck and ear nervs enter the brain in the same general region. This gives rise to the characteristic sounds of tinnitus.
2. The jaw joint position. Tinnitus may occur when the tissues in back of the TM joint become compressed, sometimes from an improperly aligned joint that pushes back into the ear space. The tissue is very sensitive and often responds with pain. The body, in turn, tries to correct the pressure by pushing the jaw in a more forward direction. However, the jaw's muscles were not designed to hold the bones in that position for long periods of times, and as they became overworked, they started to go into spasm. This affects the entire jaw area, which may become tender and achy.
Treatment for Tinnitus
Treatment for tinnitus-associated TMJ can sometimes be difficult to find because there is no certified specialty for TMJ disorders, and if the primary cause of the discomfort (the TMJ) can not be corrected, neither can the secondary (the tinnitus). Neverheless, a good place to start is your regular dentist, as he often has specialized training in TMDs. He may try to adjust your bite and align your teeth, or he might recommend an appliance, such as a night guard. This plastic mouthpiece is worn over the upper teeth to prevent clening or grinding, especially during the night, which can place a strain on the joint and the surrounding muscles. Certain medications, such as the tricyclic antidepressants, may reduce the severity of the TMD and tinnitus symptoms, and a soft diet can help ease the tension on overworked muscles.
The most effective treatment for this condition involves stress reduction and exercises that stimulate the muscles and encourage the joints to move properly. Exercises can improve circulation and reduce overall tension, and those targeted at relaxation will also diminish the stress placed on the TM joint and surrounding tissues. As always, if you have tinnitus and TMJ Dysfunction, seek the advice of your dentist or other healthcare professional about which specific treatment or combination of treatments is best for you.
Below are two exercises that may help improve both TMJ Dysfunction and tinnitus:
1. Resisted Opening . This exercise allows both greater relaxation and movement of the jaw joint and offers relief from the pain of constant use. Shut your mouth and position your palm beneath your chin. Gently press your jaw against your palm and allow your mouth to open gently. Your palm should apply the weightless resistance you need to open your mouth as far as it can without discomfort. Once open fully, repeat the exercise in reverse until your mouth is fully closed.
2. Midline Exercise . This exercise requires a certain amount of focus, but it will help you learn how to open and close your mouth consistently and easily. Stand in front of a mirror, and keep your mouth closed. Notice how your top and bottom teeth align. Then gradually open your mouth, making sure your bottom teeth continue to line up with your top teeth. In most people with TMJ Dysfunction, the jaw tends to move toward one side or the other instead of remaining aligned, and this can create tension in the jaw muscles. After the jaw is fully extended, shut your mouth while keeping your teeth aligned.
TMJ and tinnitus often occurs in combination, but there is no need for you to simply grit your teeth and bear them. Learn as much as you can about both conditions, and speak with your healthcare professional about what treatment is right for you.