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Maintaining a Healthy Mouth Can Protect Your Hearing

02/12/2015

February is Children’s Dental Health Month, but good oral hygiene is something kids and adults should strive to maintain year-round. Why is a hearing aid manufacturer discussing the importance of oral health? You may be surprised to learn that dental problems have been linked to hearing loss.

Harmful bacteria migrates

A buildup of dangerous bacteria in your mouth doesn’t just affect your teeth and gums. It can travel throughout your bloodstream and cause damage to blood vessels and arteries, interrupting the flow of blood to the tiny hair cells in your inner ear. Without a steady flow of blood, these delicate sound conductors begin to die off and your ability to hear diminishes.

TMJ disorder, hearing loss, and tinnitus

Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) is caused by a jaw that is out of alignment. The condition may develop after a direct injury (blow to the jaw) or indirect accident (whiplash), grinding your teeth, or from arthritis in the jaw joint. In some cases there is no clear cause. The symptoms of TMJ include pain in and around your mouth and jaw, a jaw that occasionally locks open or shut, clicking or grinding sounds when talking or chewing, headaches, difficulty eating, and swelling.

TMJ is also associated with hearing problems, including tinnitus (ringing or buzzing in your ears), hearing loss, ear pain, and dizziness. Approximately 33 percent of those diagnosed with TMJ describe their hearing as “muffled” or “clogged.” This is likely due to Eustachian tube blockage. The Eustachian tube regulates ear pressure when it is functioning properly, but in TMJ patients muscle spasms my cause the natural opening and closing of this tube to malfunction, resulting in a buildup of pressure that interferes with hearing.

The good news is TMJ can usually be treated by your dentist or a TMJ specialist with non-invasive therapies such as bite guards or physical therapy. Muscle relaxants and pain relievers may also be prescribed. Extreme cases may require injections or oral surgery. Once the symptoms are brought under control hearing loss may be reversed and any other ear-related problems should subside.

The best ways to avoid general dental problems such as tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease are to practice good oral hygiene every single day. Make sure your kids learn early to brush their teeth at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and floss at least once a day (and you do the same). Take children (and yourself) to the dentist for regular checkups and professional cleanings.

As for TMJ, if you know you grind your teeth in your sleep or have been experiencing any of the other symptoms of the condition, see your dentist immediately to find out what you can do to avoid developing TMJ or keep it from advancing further. However, if you discover TMJ is not the root cause of your tinnitus, hearing loss, or other hearing problems then your next step should be a consultation with a qualified hearing care professional.

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