Ear pain is one of the most common symptoms of TMJ disorder. The muscles and nerves that control the ear and the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, are one in the same. Misalignment of the jaw can irritate the nerves and cause ear pain in addition to jaw pain.
The most common form of internal TMJ derangement is anterior disc displacement of the articular disc above the condyle. The discomalleolar ligament connects the malleous, or the hearing bone that sits in the middle ear, to the articular disc and capsule of the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ. When the jaw is misaligned, the condyle is pulled away from the disc, the disc goes downward and forward stretching this ligament, causing ear pain and other localised symptoms.
Behind the condyle, in the glenoid fossa, is the auriculotemporal nerve branch of the trigeminal nerve. When the disc displaces anteriorly, the mandible condyle moves further back into the joint socket. This leads to compression of the auriculotemporal nerve, which can cause ear pain and lead to aural symptoms such as tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, hyperacussis, and even hearing loss.
The trigeminal nerve also controls the tensor veli palatini which opens the eustachian tube. The eustachian tube equalized pressure across the tympanic membrane, protects middle ear, and clears out middle ear secretions. The eustachian tube opens when you chew and swallow. This is controlled by the muscles called the tensor veli palatini, the levator palatini, and the salpingopharyngeus.
The muscles in and around the ear and jaw are often affected by misalignment or parafunction activity of the mandible such as bruxism, which means grinding or clenching your teeth. These muscles can go into spasm or malfunction and can cause dysfunction of the eustachian tube, giving you the sensation of fullness, clogging, or plugging.
There are a number of ear related symptoms that could be caused by TMJ disorder. If you have chronic or persistent ear pain or discomfort, call and schedule an appointment today.