When Ear and Jaw Pain Indicates TMJ

Facial pain can have non-dental causes, but ear and jaw pain – especially in the area of the joint just below the ear – is often a sign of a temporomandibular disorder (TMD).

Types of TMD

Also known by its older term, TMJ, this condition is divided into three broad categories, as noted in the Journal of Orofacial Pain:

  1. Pain and functional issues directly related to the joint itself.

  2. Pain from the muscles supporting the head and neck.

  3. Pain from a physical derangement in the area of the joint.

The etiology is fairly subjective for pain and joint problems, though. Bite alignment, tooth-clenching, tooth-grinding, trauma, deep muscle pain, degeneration of the joint, stress and similar emotional issues are all possible culprits.

Who to See About It

There is no recognized dental specialty for TMD and TMJ. Some universities have formal training programs for dentists most involved in facial pain. Many dentists pursue this area out of patient needs that demand proficiency in treating these problems. Depending on the complexity of your condition, however, multiple dentists with different skills may be required.

Acute and Chronic Pain

It's not unusual to experience an acute episode of TMD, which can result in limited jaw opening, pain upon chewing, feeling that your teeth do not properly meet and head or neck pain that radiates to the ear. In some patients, the problem develops into a chronic situation. Chronic or ongoing pain can be difficult to diagnose and require more involved treatment to improve.


Conservative and reversible treatment should always be explored first, even for a condition that is deemed chronic. This may include just giving your body time to heal itself. Anti-inflammatory medications and a softer diet can follow. Nonetheless, a night guard may be needed if signs of clenching and grinding are noticeable as a potential cause of the problem.

Individuals who suffer from TMD still need to maintain good oral hygiene to prevent other dental problems from compounding the issue. To ensure you are recovering well, brush with Colgate® Enamel Health Sensitivity Relief, especially if your condition is related to grinding, which can wear your molars' surfaces over time. Rest assured there is hope for patients who suffer from ear and jaw pain, even if it leads to a temporomandibular joint disorder later on.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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Common Conditions During ADULTHOOD

As we get older, dental care for adults is crucial. Here are a few of the conditions to be aware of:

Gum disease – if your home care routine of brushing and flossing has slipped and you have skipped your regular dental cleanings, bacterial plaque and tartar can build up on your teeth. The plaque and tartar, if left untreated, may eventually cause irreparable damage to your jawbone and support structures, and could lead to tooth loss.

Oral cancer – according to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, men over the age of 40 have the greatest risk for oral cancer. About approximately 43,000 people will be diagnosed with cancer of the mouth, tongue or throat area, and the ACS estimates that about 7,000 people will die from these cancers. The use of tobacco products and alcohol increases the risk of oral cancer. Most oral cancers are first diagnosed by the dentist during a routine checkup.

Dental fillings break down – fillings have a life expectancy of eight to 10 years. However, they can last 20 years or longer. When the fillings in your mouth start to break down, food and bacteria can get underneath them and can cause decay deep in the tooth.