Many people are unaware that jaw issues can impact their hearing. In this article, we’ll delve into the relationship between temporomandibular joint disorders, commonly known as TMJ or TMD, and hearing problems. Ear symptoms are among the most common complaints among people with TMJ or TMD. The most common ear symptoms are a sensation of ear fullness, ear pain, and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). However, hearing loss is also relatively common for people with TMJ.

Dr. Richard Klein has spent decades helping patients with TMJ symptoms in the Detroit area, including hearing loss. He understands the anatomy and causal links between TMJ and ear problems, such as hearing loss. If you suspect your hearing loss might be linked to TMJ, please call (586) 573-0438 or use our online form today to request an appointment at the Michigan Head & Neck Institute, serving the Detroit area, from our office in Warren, MI.

Dr. Klein Relieved a Child’s Hearing Loss

One of Dr. Klein’s most memorable experiences helping patients with hearing loss happened before he understood TMJ treatment. A child came to his office for a dental appointment, with her parents reporting that she’d lost her hearing over the last year. When he examined the girl’s teeth, he saw that her previous dentist had extracted a baby tooth on the bottom, and the opposing upper tooth had emerged into the space left by the absent tooth. This affected the girl’s bite. Dr. Klein balanced the child’s bite, and her hearing came back within a week. 

Watch the video below to hear Dr. Klein recount his experience with this patient and explain the connection between TMJ and hearing loss.

Why TMJ Can Cause Hearing Loss

close up of a head next to an ear

The temporomandibular joint is very close to your ear. When you find the joint, you’ll see it’s just below and behind your ear. However, the connection is more than just proximity; there are close functional links between the jaw and the ear.

The joint’s name, ‘temporomandibular’, partly comes from the ‘temporal bone’, which surrounds the middle and inner ear. In addition, two tiny bones in the middle ear that help with hearing have evolved from jaw joint bones in reptiles. These bones and associated muscles still retain connections to the jaw joint. Regarding hearing loss, the muscle of most significant concern is the tensor tympani.

What Is the Tensor Tympani?

The tensor tympani is a small muscle in the ear. Its job is to steady the eardrum in response to loud noises. This reduces the vibration of the eardrum, reducing the amount of sound that passes from the eardrum to the hearing mechanism, dampening the sound you hear.

The most common sound of the tensor tympani muffles is your chewing. The tensor tympani also helps to open the eustachian tubes, which allow the ear to equalize pressure. 

How TMJ Can Affect the Tensor Tympani

The relationship between TMJ and the tensor tympani muscle in the ear is intricate. Let’s break down the potential effects:

  • Muscle Tension: TMJ can lead to tension in the head, neck, and jaw muscles. This tension can sometimes cause the tensor tympani to tense up. For instance, you might notice this when yawning or stretching your neck. This tension can produce a low sound, which you might hear if you focus on it. You might even feel a vibration if you place your hand over your ear, especially when the muscles are contracted.
  • Impact on Hearing: When the tensor tympani muscle is tensed, it can make it harder for sounds to reach your middle or inner ear. This can lead to a reduction in hearing. Additionally, chronic tension in this muscle can result in ear pain.
  • Trigeminal Nerve Connection: The tensor tympani is controlled by the trigeminal nerve, which also controls the jaw muscles. In people with TMJ, frequent tension in the jaw muscles due to behaviors like clenching or grinding can activate the tensor tympani. This can lead to hearing loss and ear pain.
  • Eustachian Tube Function: TMJ might also interfere with the tensor tympani’s ability to open the eustachian tubes. This can lead to a buildup of pressure in the ear, resulting in a feeling of fullness, ear pain, and reduced hearing.

Relief from Hearing Loss in Detroit

If you suspect your hearing loss might be related to TMJ, the TMJ dentists at the Michigan Head & Neck Institute can help.

Suspect TMJ might be linked to your hearing loss if:

  • Jaw, head, or neck activity affects your hearing loss
  • You have other TMJ symptoms
  • You don’t have a good explanation for hearing loss

Jaw activity might include talking, biting, chewing, yawning, and more. However, it might also be due to clenching and grinding your teeth. If hearing loss increases during or after stressful situations, jaw activity is a good candidate. Many people clench and grind their teeth overnight, so if you notice hearing loss in the mornings, you should suspect TMJ, possibly linked to sleep apnea, since many people have both conditions.

For help with TMJ-related hearing loss in Detroit, please call (586) 573-0438 or use our online form today to request an appointment with the TMJ dentists at the Michigan Head & Neck Institute in Warren, MI.