Tinnitus and Your Teeth
- April 10, 2017
- 6 mins read
In a previous blog, we talked about how your mouth is the gateway to your body. We’ve emphasized how your oral health can affect your overall health, and how your mouth can signify serious conditions in the long run. Let’s take a look at one of them.
Tinnitus is defined as a “ringing in the ears.” It is not a sickness in itself, although it can be a symptom of a far more serious disease. According to the American Tinnitus Association (ATA), almost 50 million Americans suffer from this condition. Some cases of tinnitus can be debilitating, which makes it among the most common health conditions in America today.
ATA continued to define tinnitus as “the perception of sound when no actual external noise is present.” It can manifest as “buzzing, hissing, whistling, swooshing, and clicking,” while in very rare cases it can manifest as the sound of music.
What makes tinnitus annoying is that the loud sound is only heard by the sufferer, as he or she is suffering from phantom noise. The condition can come and go, or may be present at all times. In such cases, it can even hamper your quality of life, as it would interfere with your ability to hear actual sound or to concentrate.
There are two kinds of tinnitus: subjective, and objective. Subjective tinnitus refers to the condition wherein only you can hear the sound. It is the most common type of the condition, and is oftentimes caused by problems in the inner, outer, or middle ear. It can also be caused by auditory nerves or pathways. On the other hand, objective tinnitus is when the doctor can actually hear the sound when he or she conducts an examination. This rare kind of the condition may be caused by muscle contractions, a problem in a blood vessel, or your middle ear bone.
Now, you may be wondering what tinnitus has to do with your teeth. Before we answer that, let us first take a look at what commonly causes tinnitus. The condition is caused by four major factors, which are:
- Ear bone changes – Tinnitus can be the result of the stiffening of your middle ear bones. This normally runs in families.
- Age-related hearing loss – As with many conditions related to age, older people’s hearing tends to worsen when they get to the age of 60 and older. Hearing loss can also trigger tinnitus.
- Earwax blockage – You would be surprised by how many Americans do not follow the guidelines set by the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, particularly regarding the cleaning of earwax. For instance, did you know that you are not supposed to use cotton swabs? This is another topic in its entirety, but you have to understand that when you do not clean your ears and the earwax accumulates, it can cause irritation of the eardrums and hearing loss. Corollary to that, too much wax buildup is among the leading causes of temporary hearing loss.
- Exposure to loud noise – Finally, there is exposure to loud noise, which ranks among the most common causes of tinnitus. This can include the constant use of portable music devices or the loud noise you would typically hear from firearms or heavy equipment. Even a short-term exposure to these loud noises can be enough to trigger tinnitus.
Now, think of all the things you are exposed to when you visit the dentist. Can you guess what the primary contributor to tinnitus is?
Tinnitus and your teeth
One of the leading culprits in triggering tinnitus in patients would be the use of dental drills. The dental drills emit a high-pitched noise which is transmitted directly into the inner ear through bone conduction. The drills can cause hearing loss, so much so that studies have been conducted about how dentists are putting their hearing at risk because of the noise levels in dental offices.
A study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine said, “that dentists are at risk of exposure to hazardous noise levels in their work environment, with that risk related to time of exposure to dental handpieces and suction.” It goes on to say that “the rate of tinnitus appeared to be much higher,” and “both diagnosis of hearing loss and report of tinnitus were positively related to perception of a noisy work environment.”
However, there are dental cases wherein the drills are necessary, such as during a difficult tooth extraction. Unfortunately, wearing earplugs would do nothing since the sound would still reach the cochlea. To avoid hearing loss, you should therefore ask your dentist to drill in short spurts. Drilling for five seconds, stopping for ten, drilling for another five, and so on until the job is finished. Since the drilling is spread out, it gives your ears a chance to recover, thereby minimizing the impact of the sound.
Another dental procedure that can cause tinnitus is ultrasonic plaque removal. It emits a frequency of 12,000 to 15,000 Hz and causes high intensity sound that lasts for about half a second. If you want to clean your teeth but do not want to deal with the aftermath of an ultrasonic plaque remover, then ask your technician for mechanical scaling implements. This would cut down on the noise and would protect your hearing.
Should you forego going to the dentist?
Since exposure to these high-frequency materials can trigger hearing loss, some people are wondering if they should forego going to the dentist altogether. The short answer to this is no, since there are also many cases wherein going to the dentist were able to resolve their cases of tinnitus. This is another blog for the future, but know that there are certain conditions (such as impacted wisdom tooth, temporomandibular joint dysfunction, and teeth abscesses) that can cause tinnitus. Likewise, there are also procedures that can relieve patients of the symptoms of hearing loss.
To find out more about it, stay tuned for our next article.