A recent study has linked the condition eustachian tube dysfunction with another painful condition, temporomandibular joint disorder. The study found that among 21 respondents who filled out the ETDQ-7 (eustachian tube dysfunction questionnaire), temporomandibular joint disorder was “highly prevalent” in the patients with eustachian tube dysfunction. The eustachian tube is a small tube that connects the ear to the throat. The eustacian 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 fill 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, but in the newest study, the disorder has been linked to temporomandibular joint disorder, too. Dr. Alexandra George practices neuromuscular orthodontics in her Wexford, Pennsylvania, dental clinic. She says the link between ETD and temporomandibular joint disorder 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 temporomandibular joint disorder patients frequently suffer from, either. “Many patients with temporomandibular joint disorder 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 temporomandibular joint disorder 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. 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 temporomandibular joint disorder, George says.