A recent study has linked the condition of eustachian tube dysfunction (ETD) with another painful condition: temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD). The study found that among 21 respondents who filled out the ETDQ-7 (eustachian tube dysfunction questionnaire), TMJD was “highly prevalent” in patients with eustachian tube dysfunction.
This article discusses what ETD is, the link between ETD and TMJD, and how a neuromuscular dentist specializing in TMJD treatment can help.
What is eustachian tube dysfunction?
The eustachian tube is a small tube that connects the ear to the throat. The eustachian tubes open and close to relieve pressure on your inner ear when you chew, yawn, or sneeze, preventing the ears from filling with fluid or air. Unfortunately, sometimes things go wrong in your eustachian tubes, and they don’t do their job correctly or even at all. This is known as eustachian tube dysfunction or ETD.
Eustachian tube dysfunction frequently occurs during illness, when the tubes become swollen and filled with fluid or mucus. Patients experiencing ETD may feel as though their ears are blocked, and sound may seem distant or muffled. Eustachian tube dysfunction is said to be more prevalent in smokers, persons who are obese, and young children. In the newest study, the disorder has been linked to TMJD.
Explaining the link between ETD and TMJD
Dr. Alexandra George practices neuromuscular orthodontics in her Wexford, Pennsylvania, dental clinic. She says the link between ETD and TMJD is not surprising at all. “Because the temporomandibular joint is so close to the ears, it isn’t surprising that it could irritate the eustachian tubes,” she says.
According to George, ETD isn’t the only condition of the ears that TMJD frequently suffers from, either. “Many patients with TMJD also suffer from a condition called tinnitus, which also occurs in the inner ear,” George says.
Tinnitus is characterized by a constant ringing in the ears that can last for months on end. It is believed to be caused by TMJD because of the temporomandibular joint’s proximity to the ear canal. “Tinnitus occurs when the pressure from the temporomandibular joint puts pressure on the ear nerves and causes them to fall out of alignment. Then you get the ringing, buzzing or hissing noises in your ears,” George says.
How TMJD treatment can help with ETD
George says while it is not yet known how to correct the connection between the eustachian tubes and temporomandibular joint disorder, it could be a useful diagnostic tool for either condition. “If a patient is suffering from blocked ears, it could start a conversation about their jaw and possibly lead to a treatment that takes care of both problems,” she says. “The same can be said for patients complaining of temporomandibular joint pain. Both can be useful for screening purposes.”
If you find your ears are constantly blocked without the presence of illness, obesity or smoking, speak to your doctor or dentist to rule out ETD or TMJD, George says. If you’d like more information on how TMJD treatments can help ETD, contact us to book an initial consultation.