woman with pain in ear or jawMany people in Fort Atkinson experience troubling ear-related symptoms. Vertigo, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), ear fullness, and ear pain can be disruptive, even disabling. Part of what makes these symptoms troubling is that it’s hard to get a good explanation, especially one that leads to relief of your symptoms.

Two common explanations for these symptoms are temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ or TMD) and Ménière’s disease. If you get repeated vertigo and related ear symptoms, you should consider these possible explanations. In Fort Atkinson, TMJ dentist Dr. Jennifer Stafford at Bite Align can help you determine whether TMJ might be causing your vertigo and other ear-related symptoms.

What Is TMJ?

TMJ is an umbrella term for jaw disorders affecting the temporomandibular joint or joints. The temporomandibular joint is between the temporal bone of your skull and the mandible, or jaw bone. You have one joint on either side of your head, just below and in front of your ears.

There are many different types of TMJ, but the most common is often called myofascial pain disorder (MPD) because it affects your muscles. This type of TMJ results from overworked muscles, usually because the jaw muscles can’t find a comfortable resting position. Instead, they pull at the jaw, straining themselves and putting pressure on the bones, nerves, and teeth.
This can cause many symptoms.

Because the ear and jaw structures are closely interrelated, about 80% of people with TMJ experience ear-related symptoms, and at least 40% experience vertigo.

TMJ is a relatively common condition, affecting about 15% of American adults, approximately one in seven.

How Do We Diagnose TMJ?

At Bite Align in Fort Atkinson, TMJ dentist Dr. Stafford works hard to achieve a positive diagnosis of TMJ. She will take a detailed medical history of your symptoms and experience. Then she will perform a careful physical examination of your jaw and jaw muscles.

Dr. Stafford also utilizes advanced technology to measure the tension of your jaw muscles to see if they experience excessive stress. Computerized jaw tracking and measurement of jaw joint sounds help diagnose TMJ and determine what type or types you might have. Additional imaging using a CT scan and/or MRI provides detailed images to improve diagnostic accuracy further.

How Do We Treat TMJ?

Fort Atkinson TMJ dentist Dr. Stafford prefers to take a non-invasive treatment approach to TMJ treatment. We might start with a gentle electric massage or refer you for physical therapy in Fort Atkinson. Dr. Stafford might prescribe medications, such as muscle relaxants or painkillers. Oral appliance therapy can also offer effective symptom relief. Once we achieve short-term relief, we can recommend long-term treatment options.

What Is Ménière’s Disease?

Ménière’s disease is an inner ear disorder. Fluid buildup in the inner ear affects the function of your ear’s balance and hearing structures. This, in turn, causes vertigo, dizziness, tinnitus, and hearing loss that come with the condition.

We aren’t sure why some people develop this fluid buildup. It might be linked to infections and allergies and have a genetic component.

Ménière’s disease is a relatively rare condition, affecting only about 0.2% of Americans, about 1 in 500.

How Do Doctors Diagnose Ménière’s Disease?

Typically, an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor in Fort Atkinson will diagnose Ménière’s disease. There isn’t a common positive diagnosis technique for this condition. Doctors will ask you about your symptoms, then diagnose the condition by eliminating other possibilities.

Symptoms of Ménière’s disease your doctor might ask about include:

  • Two or more episodes of vertigo lasting at least 20 minutes
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
  • Temporary hearing loss
  • A feeling of fullness in the ears

Then your doctor might recommend a CT scan or MRI of the brain to eliminate some potential causes of your symptoms.

One common problem is that doctors often don’t consider TMJ and test for it, even though it might cause all the symptoms listed above for Ménière’s disease. This oversight might mean people don’t get a diagnosis of the true cause of their ear-related symptoms.

How Do Doctors Treat Ménière’s Disease?

Current treatments for Ménière’s disease include:

  • Medications
  • Dietary changes
  • Cognitive therapy
  • Pressure pulse treatment
  • Surgery

Using anti-dizziness medications is the most common approach to treating Ménière’s disease. This might include sedatives. Reducing salt and reducing fluid intake and retention might also help relieve symptoms. Therapy can help people deal with the effects of the condition. Pressure pulse therapy involves applying pressure to your ears for about five minutes, usually three times a day. Surgery for Ménière’s disease involves reducing fluid buildup in the inner ear.

Find Out What’s Really Causing Your Vertigo in Fort Atkinson

If you experience multiple episodes of vertigo, it’s time to find the explanation. TMJ is a widespread condition that often results in vertigo, tinnitus, and other ear-related symptoms. However, it’s often overlooked.

If you’re looking for help determining the cause of your ear symptoms, please schedule an appointment with Dr. Stafford at Bite Align in Fort Atkinson. Please call (920) 563-7323 or use our online form to request an appointment at our office near Johnson Bank and across the street from Bumper to Bumper Auto Parts.