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Jaw and ear pain can result from numerous conditions. The most common causes include:
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 (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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
A wide range of symptoms can occur with ear and jaw pain. Depending on the underlying cause, you may experience:
A doctor can diagnose the cause of your pain and symptoms with a physical examination.
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.
Several methods can help relieve discomfort from a TMJ disorder at home. You can:
In cases where at-home remedies don't improve your symptoms, you may visit a professional for treatment. Medical treatments may include:
Minor or temporary jaw or ear pain is often nothing to worry about and will go away on its own.
However, you should talk to a doctor if you have chronic pain or if at-home remedies don’t relieve symptoms. If you experience signs of infection, talk to a doctor as soon as possible.
Signs of infection include:
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