Did you know that ear pain is one of the common symptoms of TMJ disorders? The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is located just in front of your ear. This hinge-type sliding joint connects your jaw to your skull and enables you to chew or talk. TMJ disorders can cause pain and discomfort in this area which can extend beyond the temporomandibular joint. If you are dealing with TMJ symptoms, you may already experience jaw movement problems, facial pain, or jaw clicking sounds. Plus, there are a variety of other signs such as ear pain, ear ringing, dizziness, and headaches. In this article, we will discuss TMJ-related ear pain, why it happens, and how to find relief.
What is TMJ?
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) connects your lower jaw (mandible) to your skull on each side of your head near your ear. These are joints that allow you to move your jaw in three-dimensional directions, up/down, backward, forward, and side-to-side so that you can chew and talk.
Just like any other joint, the TMJ can be affected by a range of orthopedic problems. This can include sore muscles, inflammation, strained tendons, and displaced or other disc issues. TMJ disorders, or TMD, refer to this group of conditions which result in pain and discomfort in jaw joint and muscles.
Besides jaw pain and discomfort, ear and facial pain are among the most common complaints of temporomandibular conditions.
It is often not clear to figure out the exact cause of TMJ disorders. The condition can be caused by an injury to the jaw, arthritis, teeth grinding (bruxism), or misaligned bite.
Why TMJ ear pain happens?
An ear pain is a common symptom that people with TMJ disorders can experience. This is because the TMJ is near the ear canal. To be more specific, the TMJ is close to the temporal bone which includes your inner ear. The TMJ includes not only the joint but also the muscles around it. When the muscles and joints involved in the TMJ become irritated, inflamed, or not functioning properly, the pain and discomfort can affect the ear. Just as it might cause pain in the face, eyes, or even spread down to the neck or shoulders.
TMJ dysfunction symptoms
TMJ pain can be mild or severe depending on the underlying cause. It may be a dull, ongoing irritation or recurrent and sharp which may be triggered by jaw movements when chewing or opening the mouth wide.
Common symptoms of TMJ dysfunction include:
- Pain when chewing
- Clicking or popping sounds when opening or closing your mouth
- Jaw locking
- Difficulty in opening or closing your mouth
- Pain behind the eyes or other facial pain
- Teeth grinding
- Teeth sensitivity
If you have ear pain accompanied by the above symptoms mentioned, then you will need to see your dentist for a diagnosis of TMJ problems. It is also necessary to evaluate your ear symptoms with an ENT specialist first to check if there is no ear infection.
What does TMJ ear pain feel like?
Aside from earache, a ringing sound in the ear, also known as tinnitus, is a common part of TMJ ear symptoms. Some people may also feel that their ear is full or clogged due to TMJ inflammation. If your ear pain is caused by TMJ disorders, then you should have other symptoms associated with TMJ like jaw pain, clicking sounds, or limited jaw function. Your symptoms tend to flare up when pressure is applied or with intense jaw activities.
It is possible that TMJ joint disc is displaced. Or maybe the muscles, tendons, or ligaments are strained and overstressed. These all can signal pain to the ear.
Seeing a dentist or qualified TMJ doctor is necessary to determine if your source of ear pain is related to TMJ issues.
What are treatments options for TMJ dysfunction?
As the cause and severity of TMJ disorders vary, so do the treatments. Your dentist or doctor can suggest a wide range of conservative treatments available. If you are experiencing mild pain, they may recommend self-care home remedies to reduce tension in the joints and muscles and to help alleviate your pain.
Your dentist can offer different forms of treatments which might include, wearing a mouth guard, dental restorations, or even orthodontics. Relaxation techniques and gentle jaw stretching exercises help effectively to relieve soreness and inflammation. In general, it is rare for TMJ dysfunction to be so severe that requires surgery.
There are several simple at-home methods to help with TMJ disorders and thus ear pain:
- Eat soft foods
- Avoid foods that are chewy or hard which may require extreme jaw function or wide mouth opening
- Avoid chewing gum and biting your nails or other items
- Use ice packs or apply moist heat to the aching site
- Do TMJ stretches and exercises
- Manage your stress
- Avoid jaw postures such as leaning on the chin to prevent putting pressure on your jaw
Home management is important when it comes to TMD treatment. It can work effectively with TMJ conditions which in turn helps you achieve relief with your ear pain. Avoid things that worsen your TMJ and take good care of your teeth and mouth. Make sure you brush your teeth and floss regularly, eat healthy foods, and talk to your dentist for more additional tips.
If the pain is severe enough, your doctor may also recommend certain anti-inflammatory medications and muscle relaxants to relieve tenderness and ease your symptoms.
In addition to lifestyle changes and home care, there are certain other treatments to manage TMJ disorders. For example, if your TMJ is caused by teeth grinding and jaw clenching, a mouth guard can protect your teeth as well as your jaw structures. There are also different designs of mouth guards or occlusal splints to help realign jaw position to ease your pain and tension.
Some common treatments for TMJ disorders can include:
- Mouth guards for teeth grinding and jaw clenching
- Mouth guards or splints to recapture displaced disc or correct jaw position
- Dental procedures and restorations such as crowns or fillings to rebuild damaged teeth or implants and dentures to replace missing teeth
- Orthodontic treatment in order to correct jaw misalignment and teeth malocclusion
- Physical therapies to improve jaw function and decrease TMJ tension
- Relaxation techniques to help calm the mind and relieve emotional stress
And finally, if your condition is severe and doesn’t respond to conservative treatments, surgery can be recommended.
There are many reasons if you are experiencing ear pain, one of which is TMJ problems. Talk to your dentist or doctor and have the necessary evaluations to confirm whether you are suffering from a TMJ dysfunction.
Ear pain is just one sign in addition to various other symptoms. This can include jaw pain, jaw clicking and popping sounds, difficulty when opening or closing your mouth as well as facial or neck pain.
Frequently asked questions
TMJ disorders not only affect the jaw joint and muscles but also the ears and other parts in proximity. The TMJ dysfunction and the associated nerve irritations can cause earache, fullness and pressure sensations, dizziness as well as ringing sound in the ears (also called tinnitus).
It is best to see an ENT doctor to rule out ear infection. Your TMJ-related ear pain can recur or persist and it could be a dull, ongoing, or sharp pain. Clenching teeth, extreme jaw activities, and straining the muscles or palpation of the area that are connected with TMJ can result in facial pain, headache, pain behind the eyes as well ear pain.