TMD patients sometimes report feeling dizzy or experiencing an uncomfortable whirling sensation throughout their bodies, either of which can place them in danger of losing their balance and falling. There are sensors in your inner ear that monitor your body’s position in space and response to gravity by sending nerve signals to brain centers called the vestibular nuclei. In turn, nerve cells in these centers send signals to your eye and limb muscles to make appropriate adjustments to keep you upright and balanced. This all happens unconsciously, by way of reflexes. So how could having TMD interfere with this process?
A team of Korean researchers decided to see if the vestibular nuclei were affected in cases of jaw inflammation by means of simulating TMD in animal models. The team used two groups of rats. One group was injected with an inflammatory agent in the right TMJ. The other was a control group injected in the right TMJ with normal saline. They waited 24 hours and then studied neural activity in the vestibular nuclei. Sure enough, they noted signs of increased activity in the vestibular nuclei on both sides in both the experimental and control groups, but much greater activity in the nuclei of the experimental animals on the inflamed jaw side provide grounds for suspecting that symptoms of dizziness might well reflect abnormal vestibular activity as a result of TMJ inflammation.