People who suffer tinnitus (ringing in the ears) frequently seek help from ENT specialists, but the problem sometimes originates from compressed jaw joints. In these cases, a dentist experienced in treating TMJ issues may be able to help. In this interview, Dr. Gio Iuculano, DDS explains the connection between dental issues and ear problems such as tinnitus.
Many people who suffer from tinnitus frequently describe hearing a high-pitched ringing in one or both ears. What might cause this, and how is it related to dentistry?
From a dental perspective, when patients have an underlying TMJ condition that involves compressed joints, we find that leads to the effect of ringing in the ears. Compressed jaw joints can be a causative factor of the ringing of the ears. The major part of TMJ therapy is always to decompress the joint.
What about the compressed joint causes the ringing?
Think about the jaw joint as a ball and socket. When the joint is compressed, the ball inside the socket is forced too far back in the direction of the ear canal. That compressed ball pinches on nerves and blood vessels that are right beside the ear. The compression contributes to the ringing, and sometimes to chronic pain. When we decompress the ball, the pressure is relieved and that decreases the pain and ringing.
Is tinnitus reversible?
It is reversible if it’s due to a compressed jaw joint problem. We have seen many times that ringing of the ears decreases after we decompress the joint; usually within a few weeks. But in some cases, other factors like viruses may contribute to ringing in the ears. For this reason, it’s important to evaluate the problem from more than one perspective, to rule out all but the actual source of the issue.
Do both children and adults experience tinnitus? Whom does it affect most frequently?
In my experience, I haven’t seen a lot of children with tinnitus or headaches. It’s usually more common in adults, having developed over years of a jaw joint being in the wrong position.
How might a dentist treat a patient suffering from tinnitus? Would it require specialized technology?
Treating cases of tinnitus, from a dental standpoint, falls under treatment protocols for TMJ disorders. It’s a common condition related to TMJ disorders, which we frequently treat with cold laser therapy. We find that it typically resolves as we improve the condition and position of the involved joints.
What else have your patients asked about tinnitus and dental issues?
Most patients aren’t aware of the connection between these two issues, and frequently we find that as we go through our comprehensive evaluation, it comes up in conversation. There’s always a chance we can help patients improve through individualized dental treatment. A lot of otolaryngologists (ENT specialists) also aren’t aware of the connection, and if they don’t see a structural issue such as an ear infection, they may be at a loss as to what to do next. In those cases, patients may end up living with the discomfort. That’s why I’m such a proponent of collaboration between providers. It frequently takes two or more specialized doctors to resolve an issue that involves more than one part of the body.
When a young child suffers frequent ear infections, parents often seek help from an ENT specialist. Should they also seek help from a dentist?
Actual ear infections are more related to a cranial issue. A referral to an osteopath plus the elimination of inflammation-inducing foods such as milk will often help alleviate the issues and help the infections not to recur.