Updated on February 9, 2024
5 min read

11 Causes of Jaw and Ear Pain

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  • 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.

11 Causes of Ear and Jaw Pain

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

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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).

5. Sinusitis

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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. Osteoarthritis

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.

10. 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.

11. Migraine

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

Professional Treatments

In cases where at-home remedies don’t improve your symptoms, you may visit a professional for treatment. 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

Should I Be Worried About Ear and Jaw Pain?

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:

  • 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

Last updated on February 9, 2024
6 Sources Cited
Last updated on February 9, 2024
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, N.K. “Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction as a Cause of Facial Pain- A Case Report.” Fortune Journal of Rheumatology, 2019.
  2. Zhu et al. “Acupuncture Treatment in Temporomandibular Joint Pain After Tooth Extraction.” International Journal of Current Advanced Research, 2019.
  3. Naser, S.S.A., and Al-Nakhal, M.A. “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, S.J., and Lee, J.H. “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, P.H. “Letters to the Editor – Temporomandibular Disorder: An Underdiagnosed Cause of Headache, Sinus Pain, and Ear Pain.” American Family Physician, 2017.
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