Say the words “TMJ disorder” and most people thinking of a popping jaw. Opening and closing the jaw with difficulty may also come up. Few laypeople understand the connection between bite alignment, jaw pain, and muscle and joint function that makes up the sensitive subject of TMJ disorder. Even fewer people are aware that TMJ can manifest in ways that may seem to have little to do with the opening and closing of the jaw.

The effects of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction can lead to:

  • Hearing problems
  • Earaches
  • Vertigo
  • Tinnitus
  • Headaches
  • Nerve Pain and neurological conditions

The Jaw and the Ear

The jaw joints are located flush with the ears. Put your finger on your jaw joint and you’ll also be touching your ear. Such proximity means that mechanical dysfunction can radiate into the organ of hearing. It should come as no surprise that TMJ dysfunction can affect the functioning and sensations of the ears. This can lead to a host of symptoms that originate in the middle or inner ear, which may or may not affect your hearing.

For example, there is a ligament that connects that jaw to the bones of the middle ear. When the jaw is not functioning properly, this connection can lead to a patient developing tinnitus (a ringing sound in the ear). Since tinnitus is usually associated with noise-induced hearing damage, few people may make the connection.

Similarly, the inner ear controls our sense of balance. As part of the vestibular system, the inner ear can be thrown off whack and affect the signals it sends to the brain. While perhaps not as common as more traditional symptoms, vertigo and dizziness can thus be an effect TMJ disorder. Since TMJ dysfunction can also cause frequent earaches and a feeling of clogged ears, if jaw pain is not present or mentioned, many cases of TMJ may be mistaken for ear problems.

Nerve Pain and Neurological Conditions

A funny thing sometimes happens with TMJ sufferers. Since dysfunction can lead to pain, they sometimes will hold their head at an unusual angle. This is often an unconscious attempt to alleviate the pain that results from what should be normal positioning of the jaw. Of course, there is a right and wrong way to hold the neck for normal function of the spinal vertebrae and spinal cord. Deviating from this can affect many subtle functions of the spine.

With incorrect positioning of the neck and spine, you put yourself at risk of blocking nerve signals to and from the brain. You may end up with nerve pain, numbness, and even neurological symptoms that seem to have nothing to do with the jaw. Just ask a chiropractor what can result from improper position of the spine, and you’ll be listening for a very long time!

Visit Dr. Mick to Learn More

Ultimately, there is a lot of activity happening in the areas near the jaw. The brain, the ears, and the spine are very sensitive structures and they are all connected to the jaw. This leads to many ways for TMJ dysfunction to manifest itself. If you suspect your jaw joint is not functioning properly, seeing a TMJ specialist may help you with symptoms you were unaware could be related.

About the Author: Dr. Mickiewicz owns a private practice in Sacramento and lectures across the nation on TMD treatments. He is a diplomate of the American Academy of Pain Management and holds membership in many professional associations for dentistry, sleep medicine, and TMD. In addition, Dr. Mick, as his patients call him, founded Pacific Orofacial Pain Consultants, a team of experts in various disciplines, who tackle the issue of TMD pain and treatment, to help sufferers find relief from chronic pain. To talk with Dr. Mick, call his Sacramento dental office at 916-469-9178.