This article was originally written on the Denture Fountain of Youth website by Dr. Rod Strickland. The original post can be viewed here.
The ear is a complex system that may seem isolated, but it’s integrated with many adjacent parts of the body. For example, tubes connect the ear to the back of your nasal airway. This can expose your ear to a risk of infection, although ear infections are most common in children.
But the connection that makes your ear most vulnerable is its connection to the jaw. Because of this connection, jaw dysfunction can lead to many ear problems, including ear pain. Poorly fitting dentures can lead to jaw problems, and that can cause ear symptoms including ear pain.
Tooth Loss and Hearing Loss Are Connected
As we age, we lose many things. We might lose strength, energy, and vision. We also tend to lose teeth and lose hearing. However, are these just things that happen at the same time, or is there some connection between them?
For hearing and tooth loss, there may very well be a connection. At least one study suggests a correlation between tooth loss and hearing loss. In this study, middle-aged people who lost teeth were 64% more likely to experience hearing loss. In fact, every tooth loss increased a person’s odds of hearing loss by 4%. However, the study merely notes a correlation–it doesn’t offer an explanation for how the one might cause the other.
However, another study looking at the association between teeth loss and hearing loss speculated that the loss of the vertical occlusal dimension leads to hearing loss. The vertical occlusal dimension is the space your teeth create between your upper and lower jaws. As you lose teeth, this space shrinks, and your jaws close more than they do when you are young and have a full set of teeth.
The study found that when people lost occlusal dimension, they were more likely to lose hearing.
How Your Jaw Is Connected to Your Ear
Your jawbone and your ear have a very intimate connection: they used to be part of the same structure. Reptiles have three jawbones and one ear bone on each side. That’s why snakes can open their jaws extremely wide. However, their hearing is poor.
Over evolutionary time, early mammals developed a different jaw joint–the temporomandibular joint–using just one jawbone. During this development, the two additional jawbones became ear bones, which improved our hearing.
But these former jawbones retain their connections to the jaw via ligaments that run from the ear bones to the jawbones.
Poor Denture Fit Can Lead to Ear Problems
These connections between the ear and jaw mean that if you have jaw problems, it can lead to ear problems. In order for your jaw to remain healthy, it has to stay in the proper position. If the jaw gets out of position, it can disarrange the various components of the jaw, including the jaw bones and the cushioning disk that sits between the jawbone and the temporal bone of the skull.
The problem is that your teeth are an essential part of this system. They define the vertical occlusal dimension between your jaws. When your teeth are lost, your jaw can’t maintain that position without help.
This is one of the tooth functions that dentures are supposed to supply, but many dentists don’t take this into account when fitting your dentures. Dentists may try to replace the current vertical occlusal dimension defined by damaged teeth or lost teeth, rather than trying to attain the optimal occlusal dimension defined by your youthful teeth.
As a result of poor fit or not wearing dentures at night, jaw displacement can trigger ear problems. This can happen either because of the ligaments that connect the ear to the jawbone, pressure on the nerves that run from the ear, or pressure from the jawbone on the temporal bone that houses the inner ear.
Along with other TMJ symptoms, you might experience:
- Ear pain
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Feelings of ear fullness
- Hearing loss
Because there are many potential causes for these symptoms, check them out before assuming your dentures are the source.
Neuromuscular Dentures Can Help
The key to avoiding ear pain related to your dentures is ensuring your dentures fit properly. FOY ® Dentures are neuromuscular dentures, which means they’re fitted to your entire jaw system: bones, joints, muscles, and nerves. This ensures that the dentures will hold your jaw in the optimal position, ensuring the proper relationship of all components, including your ears. This can resolve many ear symptoms related to your dentures.
In addition, you might see relief from other TMJ symptoms, such as headaches, jaw pain, neck pain, and more.