Temporomandibular joint disorder – also known as TMD or TMJ – has been linked to earache, tinnitus and more general hearing problems. It can impact you at any time – not just in old age. Here’s a guide to what TMD is, its symptoms, and how it can impact your hearing.
What is TMD and who does it affect?
TMD revolves around issues that affect the temporomandibular joint, which connects the jaw to the bones of your skull. It’s a ball-and-socket joint, just like the hip or shoulder. This hinge lets you open your jaw up and down, as well as move it from side to side.
TMD can affect anyone at any time, but is normally found in adults between the ages of 20-40, with women tending to suffer more than men. It’s estimated that up to 30 per cent of adults will be troubled by TMD at some point in their lives.1
What causes TMD?
Doctors aren’t entirely sure what causes TMD, but it may involve problems with the joint itself, as well as the muscles surrounding it. Though TMD isn’t entirely understood yet, there are many reasons why it may occur. Often, it can be a result of habitual teeth grinding or clenching, which is often itself a symptom of stress. Other causes include injury to your jaw or arthritis in the joint.
What are the symptoms of TMD?
Symptoms are wide ranging, but can include pain, difficulty opening your jaw, stiffness, jaw lock, a clicking or popping noise in your jaw or ears, headaches, swelling and trouble chewing. Effects of TMD also include earaches, tinnitus and hearing difficulties. Symptoms can persist for just a few months, but can last years if left untreated.
Why does TMD affect your ears?
One of the main reasons TMD affects your ears is simply because the temporomandibular joint is so close to them. So, any swelling or inflammation caused by TMD may spread to the ears as well. Inflammation associated with TMD can also block your eustachian tubes, causing pain and swelling in the ear. The resulting blockage will stop the fluid in your ear from draining properly, generating hearing problems.
There are many muscles in your ear that tense automatically when your jaw muscles tense, because they all have the same nerve supply. This constant clenching is another thing that can cause changes in your hearing – especially ringing in your ears, known as tinnitus.
How is TMD diagnosed?
As many different conditions can cause the same symptoms, it’s best to set up an appointment with an audiologist, who will be able to properly diagnose TMD. They will check your jaw and face muscles, listen for pops and cracks and test your bite. X-rays may also be carried out, as well as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans to have a better look at the bones and rule out any other causes.
How is TMD treated?
TMD is normally treated very easily as there are lots of medications that can help with the condition. These include muscle relaxers and stress reducers to resolve the problem of teeth grinding. Mouth guards or dental work, such as braces, may also be used to stop clenching and correct your bite. If none of these things work, surgery is a final option.
TMD can cause serious problems that may last years. So, it’s very important that you don’t just rely on self-diagnosis but get it investigated early by a properly trained audiologist. Luckily, Adelaide Digital Hearing Solutions offer no cost* hearing consultations, so click here to make a booking, or ring our specialists on 1300 674 934.
1National Health Service, Temporomandibular disorder (TMD). Accessed March, 2017.