When it comes to adults with ear pain, it is easy to assume that the discomfort is due to an ear infection. However, ear infections are not common in adults. In most adult patients, ear pain is not related to the ear itself, rather it is connected to issues within the temporo-mandibular joint or TMJ. Because of its close proximity to the TMJ, the muscles, nerves and ligaments surrounding the ear canal and middle ear can easily be affected when the jaw joint is irritated. This can result in ear pain that comes and goes as well as radiating discomfort that lingers all day. In most cases, hearing is not impacted, but TMJ-related ear pain is most often worse at night or immediately upon waking. It may also flare up when you yawn or eat.
Ear Pain Coming from TMJ Disorder
If you or your dentist has determined that TMJ disorder is the culprit to your ear pain, the next step is to find out why the jaw joint is irritated or strained in the first place. There are several factors that can cause TMD or TMJ-related ear pain, including the following:
- Malocclusion – Your teeth (molars) don’t fit together well
- Bruxism – Grinding and/or clenching your teeth while you sleep
- Previous Dental Procedure – A root canal or gum cleaning that required your mouth to be open for a long period of time
- Broken Tooth/ Nerve Damage
Regardless of the cause of your TMJ disorder, timely and effective treatment is important. Depending on the cause of your irritated jaw joint, you may need orthodontics, a nighttime bite guard or a restorative dental procedure. While waiting on your appointment with the dentist, it may be a good idea to try applying heat to your jaw/ear area and restricting yourself to soft-foods. Avoid chewing gum or other habits that overwork the jaw. Allowing your jaw muscles to rest and taking anti-inflammatory medication may be all you need for your TMJ to settle down and your ear pain to dissipate.
If you believe your ear pain has been misdiagnosed and may actually be coming from your jaw, please visit Park South Dentistry. We have dentists who specialize in the treatment of TMJ disorder and nighttime teeth grinding.