When you think of ear pain, you probably think it's an ear infection, but did you know that not all ear pain results from an infection?
One of the most common yet underdiagnosed reasons for ear pain is temporomandibular joint disorders, or TMDs.
Although TMDs often stem from an issue with your jaw joints (TMJs), they can cause ear pain and other ear issues.
The TMJs are what connect your jawbone to your skull. They allow your jaw to move up and down, back and forth, and even enable it to slide left to right when you speak, chew and swallow.
In this blog, we explain why the TMJs are linked to ear pain and other problems with the ear and how to find relief.
What Are the TMJs?
As we said, the TMJs are the joints that connect the lower jaw (mandible) to the skull at the temporal bone. The TMJs are made up of the bones and cartilage of the joint and a small cartilage disk inside the joint.
When the TMJs become worn or the disk in the joint becomes damaged or out of alignment, the results can be painful.
While the causes of TMDs are often unclear, in most cases, discomfort in the TMJs can occur due to an injury to the jaw, osteoarthritis (bruxism), teeth grinding and a misaligned bite. Some people also develop TMD as a result of excessive gum chewing. To learn more visit our page on TMJ disorder.
There are three primary types of TMDs:
- Myofascial pain. This is the most common type of TMJ disorder and is frequently caused by a misaligned bite. The primary symptom is aching pain deep in the muscles of the jaw joint.
- Internal derangement of the TMJ: This situation is usually a result of injury or trauma to the joint.
- Degenerative conditions: Degenerative joint conditions such as osteoarthritis can negatively impact the TMJs.
The Signs of TMD
The pain of TMJ disorders can be dull or sharp. Some patients report that their pain is constant, while others experience sudden bursts of pain.
For some, their pain can become more noticeable over time. Typically it may show up when you move your jaw during talking, chewing, swallowing or yawning.
Beyond ear and jaw pain, other TMD symptoms include soreness in the muscles and tissue along the side of your head. This soreness can spread to your neck, temple, cheek, face and lower jaw. Many people feel pain in their teeth as well.
Other common symptoms of TMD include:
- A clicking/popping sound when opening and closing the mouth
- Locking of the joint or feeling as if the jaw joint is going to lock
- Difficulty opening the mouth or jaw stiffness
- Ringing sound in the ear known as tinnitus
If you have pain in your ear, we recommend that you talk to your doctor if these other symptoms are present.
Why TMJ Ear Pain Occurs
Back to ear pain. Why does your ear hurt if you have TMD? Ear pain is associated with TMD because the TMJs are located near the ear canal.
When a joint is inflamed, it can cause pain in the ear. It can also lead to a ringing sound in the ear, also known as tinnitus. Ear pain associated with TMD is often a sharp, stabbing sensation.
When most people have ear pain, they think they have an ear infection and visit their doctor or an ENT specialist, but when no infection can be found, they become frustrated with no answer while they're dealing with ear pain.
What Are the Treatment Options for TMD?
Treatment for disorders of the TMJs varies and depends on the cause of your case and how severe it is. For mild cases, self-care remedies to reduce soreness and tension in the joint may help. These remedies include:
- Eating soft foods
- Relaxation techniques
- Exercises designed to help your jaw muscles relax
- Avoiding chewing gum and very chewy foods
- Alternating moist heat and ice on the jaw to bring relief
- Avoid clenching or tensing your jaw
- Apply moist heat to the area
Anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen and muscle relaxants can also help relieve uncomfortable TMD symptoms.
But, for long-term relief, we recommend that you talk to us about your treatment options. In many cases, we can help relieve your TMJ pain with an oral appliance that can help correct problems with the upper and lower teeth, which is often the cause of issues with the TMJs.
Are you experiencing unexplained ear pain, ringing in the ears or spells of dizziness? If your earache is a sign of TMJ disorder, the good news is that we can help.
Call us today to schedule a consultation.