When is ear pain not related to the ear? When you have a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD).
This group of jaw conditions cause pain in the jaw joints and around the jaw, but they can also cause pain in your ear or feelings of ear fullness. TMD can also cause ringing in the ears (tinnitus), vertigo or other movement disorders.
But if you don’t know you have TMD, you may not know what is causing your ear problems, which means you are likely visiting your doctor, ENT or another ear specialist to find out what is wrong with your ear. You may even think you have an ear infection and get medication to treat it, only to find your pain doesn’t go away — because it wasn’t an infection at all.
In fact, many people living with TMD and experiencing ear problems seek out a solution to their ear pain only to find out that the problem is actually with their jaw.
We can help. We understand how TMD and other issues affecting the temporomandibular joints can cause pain and other problems with your ears.
What Is TMD?
TMD is a group of conditions that affect the jaw joints, known as the temporomandibular joints. The temporomandibular joints (TMJs) connect the jaw to the sides of the skull and allow your lower jaw to move up and down, backward and forward, and side to side.
The primary symptoms of TMD include a painful jaw and limited movement, but ear problems are frequently also part of TMD.
The cause of TMJ disorders is not always clear. The primary reason for these conditions includes wear and tear of the jaw joints, injury, and conditions that affect the jaw, such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
TMD can also be caused by teeth grinding from stress, excessive gum chewing or a bite that is out of balance.
The pain caused by TMD can be dull and chronic or severely acute. It can get worse when you open and close your jaw to eat, talk or chew.
Some people also report feeling a “stabbing” pain in their ear or feeling as if their ear or ears are plugged up. Additionally, you may experience soreness or a “bruise”-like feeling along your face, cheek, jawbones, temple and even scalp.
How Does TMD Cause Ear Pain?
As the TMJs are close to the ear canal, problems can occur in the ear when the joints become inflamed. An aching or uncomfortable ear is a common symptom for people with TMD.
Some individuals can also experience uncomfortable ringing in the ears without pain or fullness.
Ear pain can be a cause of discomfort and a point of frustration for many of those affected by TMD because it seems to come out of nowhere, and treatments for “ear problems” do not work. After all, the problem is not with the ear — it’s with the jaw.
What Are the Treatment Options for TMD?
Treatment for TMJ disorders varies from patient to patient and depends on the severity and the cause of your particular situation.
If you are experiencing mild jaw pain, you can take some steps through these self-care treatments to reduce your symptoms:
- Eat soft foods.
- Do some TMD exercises and gentle jaw stretches.
- Do not chew gum or very chewy foods.
- Try to not tense or clench your jaw.
- Alternate moist heat and ice on the area.
Nonsteroid, anti-inflammatory medications and muscle relaxants can help to ease your tense jaw muscles and relieve jaw pain and ear discomfort.
If you’re living with TMD, we can help. One way to reduce discomfort is through the use of orthotic appliances to help align your bite. When your bite is aligned, your jaw muscles relax, and inflammation subsides.
The result is reduced ear pain and discomfort.
Identifying the cause of your ear pain is critical to getting proper care. If your ear pain is related to a TMJ disorder, we can help treat you and get you back to living pain-free.
The Great Imposter
TMD can also cause inflammation of the tissues of the face, leaving many people with pain and pressure in the cheeks and sinuses. This leaves many people thinking they have a sinus infection.
These symptoms, along with ear pain and teeth pain, have earned TMD the nickname “The Great Imposter.”
Learn more about how we can help treat your TMD; call us to schedule a consultation and an initial exam.