Ask the Dentist: Jaw misalignment due to poor bite or grinding can cause vertigo

Lucy Stock, dentist at Gentle Dental Care, Belfast, says the proximity of our jaw to our inner ear can lead to surprising complications

Some sufferers describe vertigo as akin to the sensation you might have if you'd just stepped out of a washing machine
Lucy Stock

EVER felt like you have just stepped out of a washing machine? This is how some vertigo sufferers describe their annoying episodes which can give earaches, ringing in the ear, amplified sounds, dizziness, spinning, balance problems, nausea and even cause them to fall over.

So, what has vertigo got to do with the mouth? Well your jaw joints are millimetres from your ear canals. The inner ears contain several structures that play a large role in balance. They house a small structure known as the labyrinth that is a key component of the body’s vestibular system. The vestibular system is how humans keep their balance and includes the eyes, nerves, bones, and joints.

The labyrinth contains fluid, which moves around as you move, and that sends messages to the brain about balance. When any of this gets disrupted, the brain can misinterpret the signals and that gives off the feeling of vertigo or dizziness.

In health the jaw joints move around harmoniously and are in balance with your teeth, jawbones, facial muscles and nerves. If you have a bite problem or grind your teeth the jaw joint can move out of alignment and start to put backward pressure up towards the ear.

It’s thought that the jaw joint may move the skull bone that surrounds the ear just enough to move the labyrinth out of position slightly. So, whenever any misalignment or inflammation occurs in the jaw joint, this is how the labyrinth fluid gets disrupted.

People with bite problems often have a condition called TemporoMandibular Dysfunction (TMD) and experience symptoms like popping noises or locking of the jaw on opening, tenderness and pain, headaches, neck pain and facial pain.

Reports show that 90 per cent of those with TMD also have a neck issue. Tight muscles in the neck may affect blood flow through a neck artery which enters the skull to supply the inner ear. Neck and shoulder tightness can lead to symptoms of vertigo.

It’s important to realise that there are many, many causes of vertigo, like infections, blood vessel and nerve problems, an injury, side effects from medicines and migraines, to name but a few. So, it’s critical to consult your doctor if you have vertigo.

If other causes have been ruled out, your TMD can be examined by a dentist who has experience in joint problems. The problem in the bite can be addressed by wearing a special bite guard and restoring the teeth to a more harmonious shape and chewing pattern.

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