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Updated on March 13, 2023
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Ear and Jaw Pain

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Experiencing ear and jaw pain at the same time is common. Many possible causes can create mild aches to intense pain in the ears and jaw.

If you feel pain in your ears and jaw, the source may be a different body part, such as the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) or surrounding muscles. This is known as referred pain, or pain in an area different from the source or cause of the pain. 

However, many ear and jaw conditions can cause pain that affects both areas. The jaw and ear are close enough that you may simultaneously feel pain in both places. 

This article will help you understand ear and jaw pain, including possible causes, prevention tips, and when to see a doctor.

What Causes Ear and Jaw Pain?

Jaw and ear pain can result from numerous conditions. The most common causes include:

Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD)

Pain in the ear and jaw may be due to temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder, also called temporomandibular disorder (TMD). This common condition affects the jaw joint and the muscles surrounding it.

As many as 10 to 15% of adults have a TMJ disorder.6 People with TMJ disorders often experience headaches, eye pain, and sinus pressure.

The TMJ connects your lower jaw to the temporal bone, which includes the inner ear. Pain in this joint can make the ears and jaw hurt simultaneously.

Wear and tear on the temporomandibular joint can cause TMJ disorders. Other times, TMJ pain is due to a different condition, such as teeth grinding, sleep apnea, or anxiety.

Teeth Grinding

Teeth grinding (bruxism) can lead to a TMJ disorder, which can cause discomfort in the ears and jaw muscles. Many people who grind their teeth at night don’t realize they’re doing it until they experience jaw pain or other symptoms.

In addition to causing TMJ pain, chronic teeth grinding can damage your teeth and change their alignment.

Jaw Injuries

A jaw injury can cause pain that radiates from the jaw to the ear. Common jaw injuries include fractures (broken bones), joint sprains, and muscle strains.

If you experience ear or jaw pain following a car accident, fall, or blow to the head, you may have a jaw injury that requires medical treatment.

Dental Issues

Dental problems can affect more than just your teeth. Oral infections like tooth abscesses can cause pain that radiates to your jaw and ear. A tooth abscess may form a pus pocket on your gums near the infected tooth.

Other dental problems that can make your ears or jaw hurt include cavities and periodontal disease (gum disease).


Sinusitis is when your sinuses become irritated and inflamed. This can happen when you have a cold or allergies. In addition to sinus pain, sinusitis can cause ear and jaw discomfort.

Ear Infections

Ear infections can cause intense pain in and around the ear. Sometimes, the pain radiates to the sinuses, teeth, or jaw.

Viruses or bacteria cause most ear infections. They typically affect the middle or inner ear.

Swimmer’s Ear

An infection in your outer ear canal is called swimmer’s ear. It often occurs when water gets trapped in your ear, creating an ideal environment for bacterial growth.

Early symptoms of swimmer’s ear include itching and mild discomfort in and around the ear. Without treatment, pain can worsen and spread to other areas, including the jaw.

Sternocleidomastoid Pain

The sternocleidomastoid muscle runs from your ear down to your collarbone. An injury to this muscle can cause pain in the ears and jaw. You may also experience sinus pain and cold symptoms.


Osteoarthritis is a leading cause of joint pain and inflammation. It occurs when the cartilage that usually covers your joints wears down.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis to affect the TMJ.

Rheumatoid or Psoriatic Arthritis

These types of arthritis occur when your immune system accidentally attacks healthy joints. Psoriatic or rheumatoid arthritis can cause joint pain in various locations throughout your body, including the jaw.


Experiencing pain in the ear or jaw near the TMJ may trigger a migraine. Migraine attacks involve severe headaches. They often include symptoms like sensitivity to light.

Other Symptoms

A wide range of symptoms can occur with ear and jaw pain. Depending on the underlying cause, you may experience:

  • Jaw popping or clicking
  • Neck and shoulder pain
  • Headaches
  • Facial pain
  • Fever
  • Runny nose
  • Sinus pressure
  • Eye pain
  • Tooth pain and sensitivity
  • Nasal congestion

A doctor can diagnose the cause of your pain and symptoms with a physical examination.

Treatment for Jaw and Ear Pain

Treatment options for jaw and ear pain vary as widely as the causes. Unless you have an infection or severe injury, you may be able to relieve your symptoms at home.

Home Remedies 

Several methods can help relieve discomfort from a TMJ disorder at home. You can:

  • Adjust your diet to include more soft foods
  • Reduce stress to relax your jaw muscles
  • Apply a warm or cold compress to your jaw
  • Gently stretch and massage your neck and jaw muscles
  • Take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like ibuprofen

When to See a Doctor 

Visit a doctor if you experience: 

  • Signs of infection, such as fever and swelling
  • Severe pain that follows an injury
  • Tooth pain or swollen gums
  • Intense pain that doesn’t improve

Your doctor will review your health history and perform a physical exam to determine the cause of your ear and jaw pain.

Professional Treatments

Depending on your condition, medical treatments may include:

  • Antibiotics to fight an infection
  • Dental treatments, such as fillings, root canals, or extractions
  • Orthodontic treatment
  • An oral appliance to treat bruxism
  • Arthritis medication
  • Physical therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Prescription pain relievers or steroids
  • Mental health treatment for anxiety
  • Surgery, in severe cases


The outlook will depend on the root cause of your symptoms. TMJ disorders often resolve within two weeks of treatment. Symptoms may recur if the underlying cause, such as sleep apnea, isn’t addressed.

Certain conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, are long-term and have no cure. Ongoing treatment is necessary to provide relief from these conditions.


There are many reasons your ear and jaw may hurt simultaneously. Temporomandibular disorders commonly cause discomfort in the jaw, face, and related muscles. Other common causes include infections, injuries, and arthritis.

Most causes of ear and jaw pain aren’t life-threatening. However, see your doctor if you experience severe pain or signs of infection. Seek immediate treatment for pain that begins after an injury.

You may be able to relieve ear and jaw pain at home. Medical treatment is necessary for infections and serious injuries.

Last updated on March 13, 2023
6 Sources Cited
Last updated on March 13, 2023
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Devaraj, NK. “Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction as a Cause of Facial Pain- A Case Report.” Fortune Journal of Rheumatology, 2019.
  2. Zhu, J, et al. “Acupuncture Treatment in Temporomandibular Joint Pain After Tooth Extraction.” International Journal of Current Advanced Research, 2019.
  3. Naser, SSA and Al-Nakhal, MA. “A Rule-Based System for Ear Problem Diagnosis and Treatment.” World Wide Journal of Multidisciplinary Research and Development, 2016.
  4. Ear Infection.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021.
  5. Kim, SJ, and Lee, JH. “Effects of sternocleidomastoid muscle and suboccipital muscle soft tissue release on muscle hardness and pressure pain of the sternocleidomastoid muscle and upper trapezius muscle in smartphone users with latent trigger points.” Medicine, 2018.
  6. Spotts, PH. “Letters to the Editor - Temporomandibular Disorder: An Underdiagnosed Cause of Headache, Sinus Pain, and Ear Pain.” American Family Physician, 2017.
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