I was diagnosed with TMJ syndrome many years ago (in my 20s) when my wisdom teeth were removed to alleviate the migraines that were making my life miserable.
More recently I have had several mild but annoying and worrisome bouts of vertigo.
Are these two conditions connected? I like things neat and tidy, even my medical afflictions, so I took to Google to find out if my TMJ syndrome and vertigo could be connected in my head. Literally.
Vertigo has been described as a:
Feeling of being off balance where you feel like the world is spinning around youWebMD
Vertigo is typically caused by several inner ear diseases and disorders, head injuries, and migraines or headaches.
In my case the vertigo only strikes when I’m lying down. This makes sleeping pretty tricky. Exercising too, especially my favourite Planks.
Tilting my head back while sitting or standing also triggers a vertigo episode, as I learned while star gazing with my three year old granddaughter recently. The good news here is that I can make it go away (for now) by putting my head back to its normal position.
Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Syndrome
TMJ, or temporomandibular joints, are located in front of each ear and connect the jaw to the skull in a hinge-like fashion. When you open and close your jaw as you must do when talking, eating or yawning, your TMJs are activated.
TMJ syndrome comes into play when the joints themselves or the muscles and tissue surrounding one or both of these joints are painful upon use. The pain or discomfort can be mild or excruciating, fleeting or constant.
Symptoms include localized pain at the joint, earaches or ear ringing, clicking or popping sounds, jaw pain/limited movement, toothaches, sleep apnea, neck or shoulder pain, tingling/numbness in fingers, headaches/migraines, swelling of the face, a crooked bite, and hearing issues.
Causes of TMJ syndrome include injuries to the head, jaw or face, eroded or damaged cartilage (arthritis or connective tissue diseases) surrounding the joint, a misaligned jaw, teeth grinding/clenching, chronic stress/tension and even genetics.
Are TMJ and Vertigo Connected?
Although inner ear issues are historically the most common cause of vertigo, jaw position and movement as well as bite alignment are now thought to be significant factors. A recent theory says:
the jaws and inner ear share a common ligament. Hence, the bones that are intricately responsible in hearing are also closely connected with the anatomy of the temporo-mandibular joint.
Because a TMJ disorder triggers stress and strain on structures associated with the jaw joints, this jointly-shared ligament can be pulled from its natural position. The trickle-down effect means the middle ear structure, which is responsible for maintaining equilibrium, becomes off-kilter.Dr Ban R Barbat
Effective treatments for TMJ syndrome to eliminate vertigo and other symptoms include:
- orthodics/mouth pieces
- restorative dental surgery
- electric nerve stimulation
- stress reduction
In retrospect, several weeks ago I heard and felt my jaw crack when I bit into an apple. I did not feel any pain with the crack, but it did startle me. When I told my husband about the crack and mentioned that it did not hurt, he said “not yet it doesn’t.”
My vertigo episodes started shortly afterward.
I never made the connection, but perhaps I should consult a TMJ specialist AKA a neuro-muscular dentist.