Ringing in the ears, or tinnitus,is a symptom often described as a ringing noise heard in one or both ears, that can be present continually at the same level or vary in intensity. The presence of ringing in the ears during the course of a day is based on jaw movements, head positions and tongue activity. In addition to ringing, some people describe sounds such as hissing, buzzing, humming, clicking, whistling or roaring. Along with these perceived sounds individuals often report hearing loss.
Tinnitus can have its origin from a wide number of possible causes. For some tinnitus is short-lived while for others it is ongoing and disruptive to everyday life.
Subjective tinnitus, that which is described by a patient but not heard or detected by an examining physician, is often prompted by factors like exposure to abnormally loud sounds (one bad exposure or of long duration), chronic ear infections, ear pain, trauma to the inner ear, hearing loss, Menieire’s disease, Acoustic neuromas, chronic use of medications like aspirin, antibiotics or antiviral drugs, and neurologic diseases amongst others.
At times it has been suggested that temporomandibular disorders can be responsible for the onset of tinnitus. Though symptoms such as ear pain are commonly associated with TMJ disorders it is my opinion that no greater than 10-15% of all those patients that we see with TMJ problems report the symptom of tinnitus.
Since the histories and examinations of these patients are no different than those without tinnitus, the reason why they are suffering with ringing in the ears remains unclear. It has been proposed that overuse of the TM joints during gum chewing, tooth grinding, or nail biting for instance can sometimes cause tinnitus but this remains more opinion than fact. If, however, the ringing in your ears increases or changes with opening or closing of your mouth, or forward and side-to-side shifts of your jaw, there is a chance that a relationship exists between the tinnitus and your jaw. In addition, if you are a heavy nighttime tooth grinder or clencher and wake up with tinnitus it would be wise to investigate whether there are treatment options available to address this distressing and often disabling symptom.
The final word is that the symptom of tinnitus often cannot be attributed to any one or specific medical disorder or physical cause. As a result patients are often left to wonder whether relief will ever be found! If your tinnitus symptoms seemingly have any relationship to jaw function an investigation with a properly trained dentist would certainly be advised.