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7 Causes of Jaw & Ear Pain & Treatment Options

Updated on August 3, 2022
Khushbu Gopalakrishnan Headshot
Written by Jennifer Huizen
Medically Reviewed by Khushbu Gopalakrishnan

Ear and Jaw Pain

Many conditions can cause jaw or ear pain. In some cases, the pain can feel like it’s coming from the jaw or ear but actually stem from pain or swelling elsewhere. This is called referred pain

Most cases of mild jaw or ear pain resolve on their own or with basic at-home care. But severe or chronic jaw or ear pain can signify a serious underlying condition that requires treatment.

7 Causes of Jaw and Ear Pain 

A wide range of conditions that impact the face, jaw, and neck can cause jaw or ear pain:

1. TMJ Disorders

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is a joint in the jaw. It connects the jawbone to the skull. When someone develops pain and discomfort in the TMJ or surrounding muscles, the condition is called a temporomandibular disorder (TMD).

The exact cause of TMD is often unclear. But TMD can be related to:

  • Jaw injuries
  • Arthritis
  • Genetics
  • Teeth grinding or clenching

Symptoms

Not everyone with TMD will have the same symptoms, but most people experience:

  • Tenderness or pain in the jaw and surrounding area
  • Dull or aching pain surrounding the ear and face
  • Trouble opening and closing the mouth
  • Clicking sounds when opening and closing the mouth 
  • Trouble chewing or pain when chewing
  • Headaches 

Treatment

TMD can sometimes resolve on its own without treatment. But chronic symptoms might require one or more of the following:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain and anti-inflammatory medications
  • OTC or prescription muscle relaxants
  • Tricyclic antidepressants
  • Mouth guards or oral splints
  • Psychological counseling
  • Physical therapy
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Surgery

2. Arthritis

Arthritis is inflammation of the joint or joints. There are many types of arthritis, but the most common are:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Psoriatic arthritis
  • Gout

Symptoms

Many symptoms associated with arthritis can also be signs of other conditions. But the most common arthritis symptoms include:

  • Heat and swelling in the joints
  • Joint pain 
  • Fever
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Trouble breathing
  • Itchiness or rashes
  • Difficulty or pain when moving

Treatment

The best treatment for arthritis depends on the cause. Common treatments include:

  • Oral pain medications
  • Ointments or creams
  • Disease-modifying medications (DMARDs) that slow down the disease’s progression
  • Surgery

3. Migraines

Migraines involve intense pulsating, throbbing, or pain on one or both sides of the head. Unlike regular headaches, migraines are much more severe and last between 4 to 72 hours. Researchers currently believe that migraines have a genetic cause.

Symptoms

The most common symptom of migraines is severe, unrelenting pain. But some people also experience:

  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Sensitivity to sound and light
  • Visual changes or disturbances

Treatment

There is currently no cure for migraines. Available treatments focus on treating a migraine once it develops or trying to prevent it.

Some medications can help reduce migraine symptoms when they occur. Treatments that may help prevent a migraine include:

  • Erenumab
  • Antidepressants
  • Epilepsy medications
  • High blood pressure medications
  • Botulinum toxin A injections

Behavioral strategies can also help prevent migraines. These include:

  • Exercise
  • Reducing stress
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Staying hydrated
  • Avoiding dietary triggers

4. Ear Infections

Ear infections occur when bacteria form an infection in the ear, often in the middle ear. One common type of bacterial ear infection is called swimmer’s ear.

Symptoms

Common symptoms of an ear infection include:

  • Ear pain that worsens when lying down
  • Fluid draining from the ear
  • Difficulty hearing
  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Trouble with balance

Treatment

Some ear infections resolve on their own without treatment. But you can use OTC pain relievers to help manage pain and discomfort. A doctor may prescribe antibiotics if an ear infection doesn’t go away naturally. 

5. Sinusitis

Sinusitis is inflammation of the sinuses, the small, air-filled cavities between your forehead and cheekbones. Infections or allergies often cause it. 

Symptoms

Symptoms of sinusitis include:

  • Blocked nose
  • Tenderness or pain around the cheeks, forehead, and eyes
  • Headache
  • Bad breath
  • Fever
  • Colored discharge from the nose
  • Trouble smelling or tasting 
  • Toothache in the upper back teeth 

Treatment

Most cases of sinusitis resolve naturally once the viral infection or allergies resolve, often within 2 to 3 weeks. 

You can manage sinusitis using at-home treatments such as:

  • OTC pain medications
  • OTC nasal decongestant oral medications or sprays
  • Placing a warm compress or pack on the face
  • Using a saline solution nasal spray

If at-home remedies don’t reduce sinusitis symptoms, or if symptoms don’t resolve over time, you may need antibiotics or a corticosteroid nasal spray. 

6. Teeth Grinding

Bruxism, or teeth grinding, occurs when you unconsciously clench or grind your teeth. 

Symptoms

Teeth grinding can cause:

  • Jaw, face, ear, or neck pain
  • Tooth sensitivity or pain
  • Sore jaw muscles 
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Dull headaches
  • Flattened, chipped, loose, or fractured teeth

Treatment

Some people do not require treatment for bruxism. For people who have severe symptoms, common treatments include:

  • Mouth guards or splints
  • Dental restorations
  • Reducing or managing stress and anxiety
  • Consciously focusing on not grinding or clenching
  • Muscle relaxants
  • Stress or anxiety medications
  • Botulinum A toxin injections
  • Treating sleep disorders like sleep apnea

7. Jaw Injuries

Any jaw injury, such as fractures, can cause jaw pain. In some cases, jaw pain from jaw injuries can radiate and feel like it is coming from the ears.

Symptoms

If you have a jaw injury, you may experience:

  • Jaw, neck, ear, or facial pain and swelling
  • Bruising or discoloration of the cheek and jaw area
  • Chipped, fractured, or loose teeth
  • A misaligned bite
  • Trouble opening the jaw or chewing

Treatment

The best treatment for a jaw injury depends largely on its cause. Some people may require surgery and have their jaws wired shut for several weeks while the bones heal. After a jaw injury, eating a liquid diet or soft foods for a few weeks can be helpful.

Home Remedies for Ear and Jaw Pain

Severe or chronic jaw pain requires medical attention and treatment. But some at-home remedies can manage minor jaw or ear pain. They include:

  • OTC pain or anti-inflammatory medications
  • Applying a warm compress or wrapped ice pack to the area
  • Massaging the jaw or around the ears
  • OTC muscle relaxants
  • Nasal saline or decongestant sprays
  • Antihistamines
  • Reducing or managing stress and anxiety
  • Limiting jaw use 
  • Maintaining a soft-food or liquid diet
  • Wearing an appliance 

Signs of Infection

Minor or temporary jaw or ear pain is often nothing to worry about and will go away on its own. But if you experience signs of infection, talk to a doctor as soon as possible.

Signs of infection include:

  • Severe pain or pain that worsens over time
  • Fever and chills
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Discolored discharge from the nose, mouth, or ears
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing

When to See a Doctor

Talk to a doctor if you experience severe or chronic pain in your jaw, ears, neck, or face. Also, talk to a doctor if at-home remedies don’t relieve symptoms or they don’t improve over time.

See medical attention immediately if jaw or ear pain suddenly or randomly occurs. 

Summary

In most cases, mild jaw or ear pain is not a sign of a severe condition and improves over time with at-home care.

But jaw or ear pain that is severe or chronic, doesn’t respond to at-home remedies, or worsens over time requires medical attention. 

Talk to a doctor if jaw or ear pain is accompanied by other symptoms, like a fever, extreme pain, or difficulty opening your mouth. 

Last updated on August 3, 2022
7 Sources Cited
Last updated on August 3, 2022
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. Cleveland Clinic. “Broken or dislocated jaw.” my.clevelandclinic.org, 2021.
  2. Mayo Clinic. “Bruxism (teeth grinding).” www.mayoclinic.org, 2017.
  3. Mayo Clinic. “Ear infection (middle ear).” www.mayoclinic.org, 2021.
  4. Mayo Clinic. “TMJ Disorders.www.mayoclinic.org, 2018.
  5. National Health Services Scotland. “Sinusitis.” www.nhsinform.scot/, 2020.
  6. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. “Arthritis.www.niams.nih.gov/, 2017.
  7. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. “Migraine.www.ninds.nih.gov/, 2022.
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