The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) consists of three bones – two small upper ones and one larger lower bone called the condyle. This joint allows you to open and close your mouth. If it becomes damaged or worn out, pain can occur. TMJ disorders are very common and can go away without treatment. However, some people experience chronic problems with their joints.
The temporomandibular joint connects the lower jawbone to the temporal bone of the skull. This connection allows us to open our mouths wide enough to eat, speak, laugh, smile, yawn and chew while keeping the teeth stable and aligned. When something goes wrong with the TMJ, it can cause pain, headaches, facial tension, tooth grinding/clenching, difficulty sleeping and ear pain/ear aches.
What Is TMD?
TMD is a term used for many different types of conditions that affect the muscles, nerves and tissues in the head and neck area. It’s also known as temporomandibular joint disorder. There are several causes of TMD, including:
- A history of trauma to the face, head or neck
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- An injury to the jaw or other parts of the body
- Certain medications
- Other medical conditions
When the nerves, muscles and tissues of the jaw joint become stressed or inflamed, it causes pain and swelling in the TMJs. As the TMJs are located where the lower jaw connects to the skull, right in front of the ear, many people experience ear problems as a result of their jaw condition.
Ear Issues Related to TMD
Ringing in the ears. Many people living with TMD experience ringing in the ears. This occurs when there is an increase in pressure inside the middle ear due to inflammation from damaged jaw joints. In most cases, this will resolve on its own, but for some individuals, their ear ringing, also known as tinnitus, can be very frustrating.
Ear aches. Ear pain is common in people living with TMD. Pain may come and go, or it may be constant. Some people have pain only in one ear; others have pain in both ears. Sometimes, the pain is so severe that they cannot sleep at night. Ear pain may be chronic and dull or acute and extremely painful.
Ear fullness. People who live with TMD often complain about feeling fullness in the ear. They may feel like there is too much pressure or air in their ear canal, which makes them uncomfortable. This problem is caused by inflamed tissue in the eardrum.
Meniere’s disease. Meniere’s disease is a disorder of the inner ear that affects hearing. It is characterized by episodes of vertigo, fluctuating hearing loss and sometimes nausea and vomiting. This can be a side effect of TMD and can negatively affect your quality of life.
Other Symptoms of TMD
Jaw pain. Jaw pain is another symptom of TMD. It may be sharp, dull, throbbing, burning or shooting. It can be felt anywhere along the jawline. It can even travel down into the neck.
Headaches. Headaches are another symptom of TMD. These can range from mild to severe and last anywhere from a few minutes to hours. They can be triggered by stress, fatigue, changes in weather, eating certain foods or even emotional issues.
Facial pain. Facial pain is another common symptom of TMD. It can be sharp or dull. It can occur in one part of the face or spread throughout the entire face. It may be accompanied by jaw muscle spasms, tenderness, stiffness or soreness.
Sore throat. Sore throats are usually associated with colds and flu viruses. However, if you are experiencing a sore throat that doesn’t seem to go away, it could be related to your TMD. You should see your doctor if you notice any symptoms of TMD, such as headaches, facial pain, ear pain or sore throat.
Difficulty eating. Difficulty eating is another symptom of TMD that can lead to serious health complications. If you find yourself having difficulty eating food or liquids or opting for soft foods because regular food hurts to eat, contact your dentist immediately. Your dentist can help determine whether your difficulty eating is related to your TMD or something else.
Difficulty sleeping. Sleep disorders are common among people living with TMD because of the pain and discomfort involved. Sleep deprivation has been linked to depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions.
Loss of use. Loss of jaw use is another symptom of TMD that can affect your ability to talk, eat, bite and chew.
Treatment Options for TMJD
There are many treatment options available, including:
Dentists and TMJD Specialists. Hey, that’s us! Bend Heachache Center can help provide relief from some of the symptoms of TMD. We will examine your teeth, gums, and jaw joints. We will then discuss what treatment will best suit your needs. Check out our website here for more info.
Medications. Many medications are used to treat TMD. The most commonly prescribed drugs include antidepressants, anti-inflammatory agents, muscle relaxants and analgesics (pain relievers).
Physical therapy. Physical therapy is an important component of treating TMD. It helps strengthen muscles, improve posture and reduce tension.
Chiropractors. Chiropractic care focuses on spinal adjustments and manipulation. It also includes exercises designed to relieve pressure on the spine.
Massage therapy. Massage therapists work with clients to release muscular tension and increase circulation. They also promote relaxation and healing.
Are you living with unexplained ear pain? We can help. Call us now to schedule a consultation.