An Overview of TMJ-Related Hearing Loss

Woman suffering from jaw pain

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Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders can cause ear pain, tinnitus, and hearing loss in some people. The TMJ is located next to your ear and connects your skull to the lower jaw. Because of its location, issues with the TMJ may lead you to experience symptoms involving your jaw as well as surrounding areas, including your ears.

If you have symptoms of a TMJ disorder and think your hearing loss is related, check with your doctor. TMJ disorder is a relatively common condition and affects people of all ages, with about one-third of adults experiencing symptoms.

Symptoms

If you have symptoms of TMJ disorder-related hearing loss, they may 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 as well, including jaw pain, headaches, difficulty chewing, facial pain, dizziness, and 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. 

Causes

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. Tinnitus or difficulty hearing can result because the eustachian tubes cannot properly drain fluid from the middle ear.

Diagnosis

Your doctor 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.

Doctors and dentists can usually diagnose TMJ disorder based on a physical examination as well as your medical history. Your physician 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 four centimeters. 

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

Treatment

Treatment for a TMJ disorder can help you restore your hearing loss and relieve ear-related symptoms. Treatment may vary depending on the cause of the disorder. You may be advised to use a mouth guard, or splint, to help allow your jaw muscles to relax and recover.

Physical therapy may be recommended to help strengthen the muscles around your jaw. You might also be prescribed medications, such as pain relievers or muscle relaxants.

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

A Word From Verywell

It's natural for anyone, including a healthcare provider, to first think of issues related to the ears themselves when hearing problems occur. As such, it might take time for you and your doctor to recognize that a TMJ disorder is to blame for your hearing loss. Thankfully, once it’s diagnosed, it is treatable. Talk to your doctor if you have questions about whether a TMJ disorder could be affecting your hearing, especially if you are experiencing any of the other symptoms mentioned here.

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