The inner ear is top of the list when it comes to complicated systems in the body. Not only is it instrumental in detecting sound, but it also informs your sense of balance and spatial orientation. And when something is “off” about your inner ear, it can be very difficult to determine the cause and find the best solution to prevent future symptoms.

Woman experiencing dizziness and vertigo with rings around her head

The Vestibular System

The inner ear contains what’s known as the vestibular system, which exists to coordinate balance and keep you upright. It does this via a network of canals filled with fluid. The hairs that line these canals are stimulated by the fluid, and relay information to your brain when the fluid moves. This is how your brain knows when you’re turning, falling, or upside down. If those systems aren’t functioning as they should, your brain might be receiving or interpreting those signals incorrectly. Consistent dizziness, also known as vertigo, is a clear sign that something is being lost in translation between the inner ear and the brain. Usually accompanied by other symptoms, like nausea, headache, ear pain or tinnitus, this could be a surefire symptom of disorders like temporomandibular joint disorder or TMJ.

TMJ and the Vestibular System

While at first sight, the jaw and the inner ear may seem totally unrelated, when when take into consideration the location of the vestibular system and the temporomandibular joint in relation to each other, the relationship becomes evident: they’re right on top of each other. This means that any misalignment or tension in the jaw joint can easily translate to problems with the inner ear. That’s why 50% of TMJ sufferers experience vertigo, 59% experience tinnitus, and 36% even experience hearing loss as a side effect of TMJ.

In its simplest terms, TMJ is a misalignment of the jaw, leading to pressure and pain that can start in the jaw itself and stretch all the way down the back and even to the fingertips. When the jaw is forced into a position of tension, the entire body strains to compensate for it. The resulting disorder can cause symptoms like jaw pain, back and neck pain, headaches, and, yes, inner ear problems.

How to Treat TMJ

If you believe you may have TMJ, the best course of action is to schedule an appointment with a dentist who specializes in treating TMJ. During your consultations, your dentist can ask detailed questions about your medical history, take measurements of your jaw, and suggest the best course of action. In most cases, TMJ can be treated with drug-free procedures, such as periodic TENS treatments (a sort of electric massage to relax the muscles of the head and face), or a bite splint (similar to a mouthguard), which can help you retrain the jaw muscles.

TMJ can be complicated to understand, and this page contains some technical information that may be easier to understand in person. Dr. Adam Hahn is an expert at explaining it in plain, straightforward language. To talk to him about TMJ, please call (803) 781-9090 or contact Smile Columbia Dentistry in Columbia, SC today for an appointment.