Did you know that not all ear pain results from an infection? Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders can result in discomfort in the area. The TMJ connects your jawbone to your skull; it acts as a sliding hinge that assists whenever you speak, chew, and swallow. Learn more about TMJ and ear pain disorders, how to differentiate this sensation from other types, why it occurs, and how to find relief.
How TMJ and Ear Pain Are Related and Treated
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects the bone that forms the side of the skull (temporal bone) and the lower jawbone (mandible), which is near your ear. This joint enables you to move your jaw forward, backward, and side-to-side. The main signs of TMJ disorder are a painful jaw and limited movement in the area.
Although the causes of TMJ disorders are often unclear, discomfort in this joint can be caused by an injury to the jaw, arthritis, teeth grinding, excessive gum chewing, or a misaligned bite. There are three main types of TMJ disorders:
- Myofascial pain: This is the most common type of TMJ disorder. It is marked by deep, aching pain in the muscles of the joint.
- Internal derangement of the joint: This is associated with a dislocated joint or trauma to the jaw.
- Degenerative disease: Arthritis is a type of degenerative joint disorder that can affect the TMJ.
TMJ pain may be a dull, ongoing irritation or a sharp, searing pain. This discomfort may be more apparent when you move your jaw to talk, chew, swallow, or yawn. In addition to experiencing ear and jaw pain, you might also feel soreness along the side of your head, neck, temple, cheek, face, lower jaw, and teeth. Other common symptoms of TMJ also include:
- A clicking/popping sound when opening the mouth
- Locking of the joint
- Difficulty opening the mouth
- Ringing sound in the ear
Remember to consult with your doctor if your aching ear is companied by any of these symptoms.
An aching ear is a common symptom for people with a TMJ disorder. Because the TMJ is near the auditory canal, pain and inflammation in this joint can affect the ear. A ringing sound in the ear, also known as tinnitus, is often a part of TMJ ear pain. An ENT specialist can examine your hearing and eardrum to determine if your earache is related to the TMJ.
Treatment for disorders of the TMJ depends on the cause and severity. If you are experiencing mild pain, your doctor may recommend some of these self-care remedies to reduce soreness and tension in the joint:
- Eat soft-foods
- Try relaxation techniques
- Do TMJ stretches and exercises
- Avoid chewing gum
- Avoid clenching or tensing your jaw
- Apply moist heat to the area
Anti-inflammatory medication and muscle relaxants can also help to relieve tenderness. A mouthguard may be a treatment option if your TMJ pain is caused by teeth grinding; this will prevent damage to the joint. Orthodontic appliances are a great way to correct the upper and lower teeth, as misalignment can result in problems with the temporomandibular joint.
Finding the cause of your ear pain is important because it will lead to getting the correct care. If your earache is a sign of TMJ disorder, the good news is that you can reduce pain and discomfort with a few lifestyle changes. Incorporate breathing exercises to assist with relaxation, which can ease tension on the joint. Speak with your dentist or orthodontist if your TMJ pain is related to an incorrect bite.
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.