Feeling Dizzy? It Could Be TMD
One thing that’s often overlooked with a temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is how it can cause symptoms that seem unrelated to the jaw. TMD is a great imitator, with the ability to look and feel like other illnesses and problems.
Specifically, TMD and the inner ear have a close relationship that can cause a number of surprising issues. People who have TMD may experience a variety of ear-related problems, including:
- Ear aches
- Fullness in the ear
- Ear ringing (tinnitus)
- Amplified sounds in the ear
- Vertigo (spinning sensation)
- Balance issues
Some of these issues can be frightening, painful, and downright dangerous. Dizziness that occurs while driving can lead to accidents. Balance issues can lead to falls and broken bones or other serious injuries. Ear aches and ringing can interfere in your personal and professional life.
If you’ve been suffering with ear problems or dizziness and can’t seem to find the cause, it may be time to look at your temporomandibular joint (TMJ). But how would a problem with your TMJ cause these issues, and what can you do about it?
Anatomy of the Ears and TMJ
In order to understand how and why TMD can affect your ears, it’s important to note a few key facts about the facial and head anatomy.
The inner ear contains a number of structures that play a large role in daily life. Indeed, the inner ear is about much more than just hearing. It contains a small structure known as the labyrinth that is a key component of the body’s vestibular system. The vestibular system is how humans keep their balance and also includes the eyes, nerves, bones, and joints. The labyrinth (which consists of the vestibule, semicircular canals, and cochlea) contains fluid that moves around as you move, helping to send signals to the brain about balance and the body’s position. When any part of the vestibular system is disrupted, including the labyrinth and its fluid, the brain receives mixed signals that can cause a feeling of dizziness or vertigo.
This is a concern for TMD patients because the labyrinth is located in your temporal bone in your head – and your TMJ attaches to the skull at the temporal bone as well. So when misalignment or inflammation from TMD occurs, the fluid in the labyrinth can be disrupted, and its important signals are muddled or interrupted. This is why some people become dizzy with certain viral illnesses or those that cause congestion in the ears, nose, and throat.
And yet another cause of dizziness is the neck’s relationship to the TMJ. Reports show that 90 percent of those with a TMJ disorder also have a neck issue. Tight muscles in the neck may affect blood flow through the vertebral artery, where it makes a sharp curve before entering the skull to supply the inner ear. Neck and shoulder tightness, and even conditions such as occipital neuralgia, can lead to symptoms of dizziness or vertigo.
This interference with the middle ear can cause a number of other symptoms as well. Many people report a feeling of stuffiness in the ear, as well as ongoing ear aches and ear pain without a clear cause. Changes in hearing, such as amplified noises or ear ringing, are also possible signs of a TMJ problem that should be addressed before they become worse. These ear problems may appear alone or in combination with dizziness.
Another reason we see a connection between the inner ear and the TMJ is because of the origin of the tissues forming these components. The same embryonic tissue that forms your TMJ disc also forms one of the inner ear bones (the malleus), and there is a ligament connecting the two (the discomalleolar ligament). This connection, as well as the proximity of the structures, may explain the overlapping of symptoms.
Addressing TMJ-related Ear Problems
One of the most frustrating aspects of TMD is waiting for too long to get a diagnosis for its mysterious symptoms. Many people deal with ear problems or vertigo for months or even years before they are finally given a TMD diagnosis. But, it’s also important to keep in mind that vertigo and dizziness can be caused by many other things. These are a red flag that should not be ignored.
We always recommend our patients see their physicians to rule out other causes of dizziness, such as a different inner ear disorder, certain diseases, a head injury, or certain medications.
For starters, review your current medications and check for any side effects of dizziness or vertigo. If these are listed as potential side effects, and your symptoms began close to the time of beginning this medication, we recommend you visit with your prescribing physician to determine if the two may be related, and discuss what other options you may have.
If these other causes have been ruled out, your TMJ should be examined by our office. We will provide you with a comprehensive plan to help alleviate your TMD, which may include:
- State-of-the-art technology for a proper diagnosis and information to guide your treatment.
- Wearing an occlusal orthotic appliance that can help position your jaw properly and alleviate TMJ pain.
- Diet recommendations to help you avoid foods that may aggravate your symptoms and keep you as healthy as possible.
- Paying attention to workplace and home ergonomics. Long periods of time with a forward bending head posture can increase neck and shoulder tension and may aggravate your symptoms. In fact, research shows that TMJ and posture are closely connected.
- Gentle, light massage to your shoulders, neck, and base of the skull. We find this is most helpful when done in intervals shorter than 1 hour, and when performed more consistently, such as 2-3 times a week for a period of 6-8 weeks. This allows repeated release of tension in these muscles which will help you improve your posture and may reduce your inner ear symptoms.
Home Remedies for TMJ-Related Ear Problems
The good news is TMD-related ear problems are treatable. Our multifaceted approach to TMD helps to alleviate all symptoms, including dizziness and tinnitus. To help bring you some relief right away, we recommend:
- Avoid hard, chewy, or crunchy foods. This can give your jaw some much-needed rest and may help alleviate inflammation and swelling in the area. We can discuss a specific TMJ-friendly diet during your appointment.
- Try moist heat or ice packs on the TMJ area.
- Look for healthy ways to reduce stress, such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, and exercise.
- Check your sleeping arrangement. Your spine, neck, and head should be in proper alignment when you sleep each night. If they’re not, consider shopping for a new mattress and pillow.
If other causes of dizziness have been ruled out and you can’t get relief, you deserve to have answers and resolution. Contact our staff at MedCenter TMJ for more information about TMD, dizziness, and the treatment that can help you get back to living your life.