TMJ-Related Hearing Loss

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Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders can cause hearing loss in some people. Inflammation and swelling near the TMJ, which connects the skull to the lower jaw, can easily affect nearby tissues and structures—including the ear.

If the cause of your hearing loss is still being determined or you have hearing loss with symptoms such as jaw clicking, headaches, or difficulty chewing, ask your healthcare provider about evaluating you for a TMJ disorder.

This article discusses the link between TMJ disorders and hearing loss. It explains how TMJ symptoms can affect your hearing, how it is diagnosed, and possible treatments for TMJ-related hearing loss.

A woman suffering from a toothache
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Symptoms of TMJ-Related Hearing Loss

Hearing loss occurs in about one in 10 people with TMJ disorders. Symptoms of TMJ disorder-related hearing loss include:

  • Muffled/decreased hearing
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Ear pain
  • Feeling of fullness in the ear
  • Clicking or popping sounds when you move your jaw

You’ll probably have other symptoms of TMJ as well. Common signs of TMJ disorder include:

  • Difficulty chewing
  • Dizziness
  • Facial pain
  • Headaches
  • Jaw pain
  • Pain or stiffness in the neck or shoulders

Your level of hearing loss may depend on the severity of your TMJ disorder. One study found that those who had the most symptoms, including jaw stiffness, were more likely to experience hearing problems.

TMJ disorder is a relatively common condition and affects people of all ages, with about one-third of adults experiencing symptoms.

How TMJ Causes Hearing Loss

Since the TMJ is located next to the middle ear, a disorder in the jaw can affect your hearing. While the exact reason isn’t clear, it’s thought that pressure or inflammation from the TMJ can affect nerves and muscles in the area, leading to blocked eustachian tubes.

Some experts believe TMJ-related hearing loss occurs due to altered middle-ear/inner-ear pressure equilibrium.

Tinnitus and hearing loss can occur because the eustachian tubes cannot properly drain fluid from the middle ear.

Diagnosing TMJ Hearing Loss

Your healthcare provider or dentist may suspect a TMJ disorder if you have symptoms of hearing loss, ear fullness, and tinnitus, but don’t have any signs of an ear infection or other ear-related condition.

Medical professionals and dentists can usually diagnose TMJ disorder based on a physical examination and your medical history.

Physical Examination

Your healthcare provider will examine your jaw to check for any stiffness, pain, and sounds like popping or clicking.

They may gently press on the side of your face while you open and close your jaw. They’ll note how wide you can open your mouth comfortably, with the normal range being at least 4 centimeters.

Imaging

Panoramic X-rays may be taken to confirm the diagnosis. These let the practitioner look at the TMJ as well as the jaw and teeth to make sure that there aren’t any other issues causing your symptoms.

Hearing Tests

You may also need to see an audiologist to assess the degree of hearing loss. Tools used to measure your hearing include:

  • Outer ear tests, such as an audiogram and bone conduction tests
  • Middle ear tests, including tympanometry, speech test, acoustic reflex measures, and static acoustic impedance
  • Inner ear tests like otoacoustic emissions

Treatment for TMJ and Hearing Loss

Treatment for a TMJ disorder may help restore your hearing loss and relieve ear-related symptoms.

Treatment may vary depending on the cause of the disorder. TMJ treatments include:

  • A mouth guard or splint to help jaw muscles to relax
  • Biofeedback
  • Counseling
  • Muscle relaxers to relieve tension
  • Over-the-counter and prescription pain relievers
  • Physical therapy to strengthen the muscles around your jaw

In rare cases, your healthcare provider may suggest seeing an oral and maxillofacial surgeon to repair any damage to the TMJ.

While managing the TMJ symptoms may help to restore hearing loss, it's not guaranteed. A 2016 systematic review of studies found insufficient evidence to prove that treating TMJ symptoms can improve hearing.

If treating your TMJ symptoms does not restore hearing, your healthcare provider may refer you to an audiologist. They can help you adapt to hearing loss and determine if hearing aids or other devices can help.

9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Jamie Berke
 Jamie Berke is a deafness and hard of hearing expert.