Can a trip to the dentist impact on hearing?

The surprising connections between very different parts of the body...
20 September 2022

Interview with 

Jonathan Reisman


Green comedy chattering teeth


Chris - The human body is a mass of interconnected systems and feedback loops. And some people may be surprised by which areas of the body have influence over others. Jonathan Reisman, Liz asks: is it true that getting your teeth removed, via dental surgery or otherwise, can lead to hearing loss?

Jonathan - That is a fairly well known phenomenon. According to my understanding, it is a very rare occurrence. You can find reports in the literature about people who lost hearing on one side partially or completely after a dental procedure, but it's rare enough that if it happens, a dentist is likely to write about it in the medical literature as a rare event.

Chris - Do we know what the mechanism might be? Why would a person having some kind of dental intervention go deaf?

Jonathan - So it's actually hotly debated or not that hotly because it's so rare. There's some theories that perhaps the adrenaline or epinephrine, which is often in the local anaesthetic that's injected into the area of the teeth, might seep through to nearby arteries that feed the hearing mechanism and the nerves feeding the hearing mechanism. And perhaps this causes those blood vessels to shrink down or spasm and stop blood flow to the organs, perhaps damaging them through lack of blood flow. There's another theory, actually, that just the sound of the dental equipment, the drills and other things, which can be quite loud and can be quite close to one of your ears, perhaps that sound alone is causing some damage to the hearing organs. Another theory I came across, perhaps the odd positions you're asked to put your neck into, and how widely you open your jaw and for a prolonged period of time during the procedure, perhaps also smooshes some blood vessels shut that should be feeding the hearing organ and it's neural component.

Chris - So one thing Liz probably can't do, if she's worried about hearing damage from the drill, is to wear ear plugs because presumably the vibrations are going to go straight through the bone and into her brain anyway.

Jonathan - True. You'll save damage to the eardrum and the outer parts of the ear, but you can still sustain neural damage to your hearing mechanism. Also, the dentist will probably want to talk to you saying "open wider, stop moving" et cetera. So you should hear those things.

Chris - So probably not a sound and valid reason not to go to the dentist, Liz, on the grounds that you might lose your hearing. Probably unlikely to happen.


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