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Earache and jaw pain: Causes and treatment

Last update on Nov, 28, 2023

Ear and jaw pain can be annoying at best—and debilitating at worst. Finding relief requires first pinpointing the cause of your pain. After that, you can determine your best treatment options.

What causes ear and jaw pain?

Ear and jaw pain can stem from many medical issues. Here, we’ll explore some of the common causes, including reasons why ear and jaw pain on one side can occur: 

An ear infection occurs when mucus builds up in the space behind the eardrum (known as the middle ear) and becomes infected by bacteria or viruses. These infections often result from illnesses like cold, flu or allergies blocking nasal passages, the throat or the Eustachian tubes, which connect the middle ear to the throat. The blockages cause pressure to build up in the ears and face, which can lead to ear infections and jaw pain.

Technically, TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint, the joint that connects the lower jaw to the side of your skull. But “TMJ” is often used as shorthand for TMJ disorders, which affect the joints and surrounding tissues. These can include:

  • jaw injuries (like a broken or dislocated jaw),
  • teeth grinding or clenching,
  • arthritis in the jaw joint,
  • stress,
  • your teeth not fitting together properly (known as called malocclusion).

Because of the location of the joint, jaw pain directly in front of the ear is a common TMJ disorder symptom

Inflammation of one or more joints, also known as arthritis, can strike anywhere in the body—including the jaw and ears. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is one of the most used and complex joints in your body, so it’s hardly surprising that it can develop arthritis. When this happens, you might experience a combination of arthritis in the jaw and ear pain

A migraine is a neurological disorder that can cause throbbing head pain. Migraine ear pain can also occur and may be felt as a stabbing pain deep in the ear, persistent pressure or the feeling of blockage. Another symptom is migraine jaw pain

Sinusitis, also known as sinus infection, is an inflammation of the tissues lining the air-filled spaces in your forehead, cheeks and nose (the sinuses). Sometimes, the sinuses become blocked and filled with fluid, especially when you develop a bacterial or viral infection or are hit with allergies. This causes pressure to build up in your face, which often extends to the ears, resulting in sinusitis and ear pain. The pressure can also affect surrounding areas, leading to sinusitis and jaw pain.

Swimmer’s ear (otitis externa) is an infection in the  ear canal. As the name implies, it tends to happen when water remains in the ears after swimming or bathing. This creates a moist environment where bacteria thrive. It might begin as mild ear discomfort, but the pain can intensify if the infection isn’t treated. The infection can even spread to the face and neck, leading to swimmer’s ear and jaw pain.   

A tooth infection, also known as a dental abscess, occurs when a bacterial infection causes a pocket of pus to appear near a tooth. An abscess can occur at the tip of the tooth root or in the gums at the side of the root. The resulting swelling and inflammation can spread to other parts of your head, causing a combination of a sore tooth and ear, neck or jaw pain. You might even notice your jaw swollen from a tooth infection. 

Many people grind their teeth or clench their jaw once in a while. But if you do it regularly, you might have a condition called bruxism (teeth grinding). Bruxism can happen when you’re awake or asleep. Grinding your teeth while you’re awake is tied to stress, anxiety or anger, whereas sleep bruxism is a type of sleep disorder. In either case, you might not notice you’re grinding your teeth until you feel ear or jaw pain from clenching. The constant jaw tension can lead to tight, sore jaw muscles and ear pain. 
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Causes for ear and jaw pain on one side

All conditions above can affect both sides of the face, but ear and jaw pain on one side can also be caused by:

Mastoiditis is an infection of the mastoid process, the large bone behind your ear. The condition is most common in children and is often from an untreated middle ear infection. As with other kinds of infections, mastoiditis symptoms can include ear pain, as well as swelling and pain near the jaw.  

While rare, tumors (groups of abnormal cells) or cysts (pockets of tissue filled with fluid) can appear in the jaw or ears and cause pain. While many jaw tumors and cysts don’t have symptoms, some grow to the point of bumping up against jaw bones, tissues and teeth. Similarly, symptoms of ear tumors and cysts depend on the size and type. However, they can cause ear pain.

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How to relieve ear and jaw pain

There are many ways to relieve ear and jaw pain, from home remedies to medical treatments.

Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, can relieve ear and jaw pain. Placing a cold pack or cool, damp washcloth, or the same with a heating pad or warm, damp washcloth, on the painful area for 20 minutes can also help when pain comes on suddenly.

Other home remedies for jaw and ear pain include:

  • Over-the-counter ear drops
  • Eating soft foods
  • Resting your jaw muscles

Your healthcare provider needs to determine the cause of your ear and jaw pain before recommending treatment. They might recommend

  • Physical therapy exercises to ease tight muscles
  • Mouth guards to protect your joints and muscles if you grind your teeth
  • Antibiotics to treat infections
  • Prescription arthritis or migraine medications

Treating the underlying cause is the key to finding jaw and ear pain relief. 

When to see a doctor

If your jaw and ear pain linger for longer than a week or becomes so severe you’re unable to eat or sleep, you should see a healthcare professional. You should also see a doctor if the pain is accompanied by:

Figuring out who to see for jaw and ear pain can be challenging, as there are many healthcare providers who can help. Your best bet is to visit your primary care provider first—they can refer you to the right specialist if needed.

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Check your hearing with Miracle-Ear

One of the best ways to care for your ears and prevent hearing loss is to get them properly examined by a hearing professional. Find your nearest Miracle-Ear store to get started on your journey to better hearing.

Common questions about ear and jaw pain

Get answers to some of the most common questions about ear and jaw pain.

A cracked or chipped tooth is often accompanied by swelling around the tooth and pain when biting or chewing. If the tooth isn’t fixed, the pain might travel to the jaw and ears

Heartburn is a common symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), caused by stomach acids rising into your esophagus. Sometimes, heartburn can cause chest pain that radiates to your neck, throat or jaw

Dentures that don’t fit correctly inside the mouth can stress the jaw joints and soft tissues. Over time, this stress can cause jaw pain that may spread to the ears. Because simultaneous ear and jaw pain has so many potential causes, it’s important to consider all of your symptoms.
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