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Can Dental Treatment Cause Hearing Loss?

Doctor looking into ear of patient with tool

Experiencing sudden hearing loss shortly after receiving dental care is very rare, but can occur. It’s important to see a medical professional to discuss any hearing issues that suddenly develop, whether or not they occur soon after visiting the dentist. Often, early diagnosis and treatment can help address the problem quickly.

Sudden hearing loss, which may also include symptoms such as ringing in your ear, a feeling that your ear or sinuses are blocked, and dizziness, can potentially be caused by inflammation following dental work. It’s less likely that the problem is caused by an ear infection, but it is possible an existing infection was aggravated by treatments such as drilling or deep cleaning. It is extremely unlikely that a dentist might have caused a physical problem that has destroyed your ability to hear.

In fact, hearing loss is more likely to be caused by a lack of dental care. Tooth decay, abscesses and inflamed gums have been associated with temporary hearing loss and hearing problems such as tinnitus. And the medications we take to ease the pain of a toothache can cause hearing loss.

Toothache, painkillers and hearing loss

Over-the-counter (OTC) analgesics (pain relievers) such as ibuprofen, acetaminophen and aspirin are safe and effective when taken as directed for short periods. But when you’re trying to quiet the pain of infected gums and decayed teeth because you can’t afford dental treatment, you may be tempted to exceed the recommended dosage and take the medication over an extended period of time.

Doctors have known for a while that very high doses of aspirin can lead to temporary hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). A more recent discovery is that moderate doses of OTCs, taken frequently, also raise the risk of hearing loss.

In one study on the effect of OTC painkillers on women found that “women who regularly took the analgesics ibuprofen or acetaminophen two or more days per week had an increased risk of hearing loss and the more often a woman took either of these medications, the higher her risk tended to be.”

“…compared with women who used ibuprofen less than one day per week, the increased risk of developing hearing loss ranged from 13% for those who used ibuprofen 2 to 3 days per week to 24% for women who used it 6 or more days per week.”

In general, try to seek help for a dental (or any medical) condition that is painful enough to cause you to over-medicate. Your dentist or other health professional can help you address the problem, and your hearing may return after you stop using the painkillers.

Analgesics belong to a family of drugs that are called “Ototoxic medications.” Ototoxic means “ear poisoning” and these drugs can cause permanent or temporary hearing loss along with extreme sensitivity to sound, pressure in the ears, and tinnitus.

Tinnitus: causes and treatments

People with tinnitus hear phantom ringing, buzzing, whistling and other sounds in their ears. These sounds are not produced by any exterior source. In some cases, the sounds heard by a person with tinnitus throb in time with the person’s heartbeat. The sounds heard may be loud or faint, may be heard all of the time or infrequently, and may occur in both ears or just one.

About 1 in 5 people are affected by tinnitus. Tinnitus itself is not a health condition, it is a symptom of a condition, such as ear injury, circulatory system disorder, inner ear cell damage, dental inflammation or gum infections, exposure to loud noises, or age-related hearing loss.

A healthcare professional can help to diagnose the cause of tinnitus, and provide treatment options.

Bruxism: the nightly grind

Tinnitus can cause people to lose sleep, due to the incessant sounds they hear in their heads. But other sleep difficulties can also cause dental problems. Among the most common dreamtime tooth destroyers is bruxism – the formal term for teeth grinding and clenching.

About 70% of all teeth grinding happens when we’re sleeping, and 40-million or so Americans are nocturnal teeth gnashers. Kids are far more likely to grind their teeth than adults, and children less than five years old are more likely to clench, gnash, and otherwise stress their teeth while sleeping. About 33% of kids grind their teeth.

But only 10 percent of people grind their teeth so hard and so often that they fracture their fillings, crack their crowns, and/or destroy their dental implants. It’s common for people to be totally unaware they are nocturnal grinders until the person they share a bedroom with points it out. Sore jaws, a clicking sound when you open your mouth, a dull constant headache, tender teeth, and even indentations on your tongue are other typical signs.

Bruxism can be a response to teeth that don’t line up properly. Some medications can cause teeth grinding (Prozac, Zoloft and Paxil are often associated with bruxism). It can also be caused by stress.

If you suspect that your bruxism is related to anxiety, you can try finding ways to reduce or control your anxiety. You can also try mindful relaxation techniques. As an example: when you feel your jaw clenching, make a point of relaxing your lower facial muscles, parting your teeth slightly and putting the very tip of your tongue between your teeth. Over time, this can help you relax and break the jaw clenching habit.

For anything more than the occasional bout of teeth grinding, you should see your dentist. He or she will check your bite and general dental health, and will probably ask about any medicines you take or stress that you have in your life.

The most common preventative treatment for severe cases of teeth grinding is to wear what’s called “a night bite plate” or a “bite splint.” Your dentist will fit one for you, some fit over the bottom teeth, others go on the top. In general, they work by compensating for misaligned teeth or by keeping your jaw more relaxed.

TMJ Dysfunctions

Both bruxism and tinnitus have been connected with problems connected with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). This joint acts sort of like a sliding hinge, connecting your jawbone to your skull, and enabling your jaw to move freely.

The temporomandibular joint can be damaged by a direct injury to the jaw, as well as injuries to the spine and neck. Additionally, teeth clenching or grinding can cause inflammation and pain to the joint. Symptoms associated with TMJ disorder include pain in and around your ear and the lower portion or side face, difficulty chewing or painful chewing, reduced movement of the jaw, and inability to close/open the mouth fully. You may also hear a clicking sound when you open your mouth or chew.

TMJ problems may also cause headaches, dizziness, migraine symptoms, earache, tinnitus, and hearing loss.

Typically, a mild TMJ dysfunction heals over time, with no need for medical care. But you should seek help from a medical professional if you have persistent pain in or around your jaw, or can’t open or close your jaw completely. Your dentist or a TMJ specialist can help to diagnose and treat the problem, using treatments such as rest, moist heat, muscle-relaxing therapies and medications.

Bite guards (oral splints) are often prescribed for TMJ problems. These guards are similar to the ones used for people who grind their teeth, but tend to be more rigid than a guard intended to treat bruxism. Instead of simply protecting teeth from damage, an oral splint will also reposition your jaw and bite in order to relieve discomfort and help the TMJ heal. It’s best to get a bite guard – as well as your night guard – custom fitted by your dentist for the best results. One size really doesn’t fit all.

Your dental health has a profound effect on your overall wellness, and vice-versa. Regular dental care has benefits that go well beyond a white smile. If you’ve been delaying seeing your dentist due to budget concerns, consider a dental savings plan, an affordable alternative to dental insurance.

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