You may experience ear and jaw pain simultaneously for several reasons. Though these areas of your body are different, they’re close in proximity.
A medical condition in your jaw, ear, or mouth can cause the pain, or you may also experience ear and jaw pain because of referred pain. This happens when a part of your body feels pain even though the source of the pain is located somewhere else.
Below are some conditions that can cause pain in both your jaw and ears at the same time.
1. TMJ disorders
One source of ear and jaw pain may be related to your temporomandibular joint (TMJ). This area includes not only the jaw joint but also the muscles surrounding it.
The TMJ is adjacent to the temporal bone, which includes your inner ear. The TMJ does a lot of work, moving in many directions so you can chew and talk.
Ear and jaw pain may occur from a TMJ disorder. Around 10 to 15 percent of adults may experience a TMJ disorder. These disorders cause inflammation and pain in your TMJ. Facial pain and ear discomfort are the most common complaints of this condition. You may have a chronic TMJ disorder if you experience symptoms for longer than three months.
You may develop a TMJ disorder from wear and tear or because of another medical condition. In some cases, your doctor may suspect a TMJ disorder, but you actually have something else like:
Ear and jaw pain could be caused by osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis in the TMJ. This condition develops from wear and tear over time to the cartilage surrounding the joint. You may feel stiffness in the joint as well as pain.
3. Rheumatoid or psoriatic arthritis
These forms of arthritis occur because your immune system attacks healthy joints. Both rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis are identified as autoimmune conditions.
You may experience joint pain throughout your body at different times, including in your TMJ, and certain triggers may cause the pain to flare up.
Pain felt in your jaw and ears near the TMJ area may trigger migraine. Migraine attacks are severe headaches that can re-occur. They can cause sensitivity to light, sound, and smell.
5. Swimmer’s ear
This condition occurs when bacteria forms in the outer ear from water exposure or injury. You may get this condition from swimming or if an outside object tears your ear’s lining. The symptoms will get worse if the condition is untreated and can lead to ear and jaw pain.
You may experience ear and jaw pain from sinusitis. This condition can occur if you have a cold or allergies and your nasal passages become irritated and inflamed. The infection is generally caused by a virus, but you can also get bacterial sinusitis.
7. Dental issues
You may experience cavities, periodontal disease, and dental abscesses if bacteria builds up on your teeth and gums. These conditions can cause damage to your mouth and beyond, especially if left untreated. They can lead to jaw and ear pain.
8. Teeth grinding
If you grind your teeth, you may end up with a TMJ disorder and feel pain in your ears and jaw. This condition can:
impact the way your teeth align
erode your teeth
break down your TMJ
strain your muscles
You may grind your teeth at night and not even realize it until pain or another symptom develops.
Ear and jaw pain are not the only symptoms of these conditions. You may also experience the following:
pain from chewing
jaw clicking or locking
neck and shoulder pain
teeth shifting and misalignment
swelling in the jaw
throbbing pain on one or both sides of your head
changes to your vision or other senses
pain along the face and neck
clogged nasal passages
green or yellow discharge
sensitivity of the face
restricted ability to smell and taste
Cavities, periodontal disease, or dental abscesses
pain throughout the lower face and neck
pain that gets worse when you lie down
swelling in the gums and on the face
loose or sensitive teeth
sensitivity to cold and hot foods and beverages
fever and flu-like symptoms
facial and neck pain
Your doctor will conduct a physical exam to begin the diagnosis of your jaw and ear pain. Your doctor may also ask about your health history to find out more about your symptoms. Be sure to mention:
recent dental surgeries
changes to your mental health like stress, anxiety, or depression
Your doctor may:
listen to your jaw
feel your jaw and around your face
look in your ears
check your vital signs
examine your mouth
You may need an MRI, X-ray, or other imaging test to diagnose the condition.
The cause of jaw and ear pain can vary and so can treatments.
You may not seek treatment for TMJ, as 40 percent of cases resolve on their own and only 5 to 10 percent of cases require treatment. Treatments for a TMJ disorder can include:
resting your jaw
using over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications
wearing a brace or splint to restrict jaw movement
flushing your joint to reduce inflammation
surgery, in severe cases
Other causes of ear and joint pain may include similar treatments. Some conditions like arthritis, swimmer’s ear, and sinusitis may include specific medications.
Your doctor may recommend certain anti-inflammatories for arthritis, steroids for swimmer’s ear, and nasal sprays for sinusitis, among other treatment options.
Oral conditions like cavities, periodontal disease, and dental abscesses may require tooth removal, a root canal, or deep cleaning in addition to other treatment methods.