Jaw and Ear Pain

People may feel ear and jaw pain as a result of a problem in their jaw joints. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the area in front of the ear. It is located on either side of the head connecting the upper jaw and lower jaw. There are movable parts, inside the joint, allowing the closing of the upper jaw over the lower jaw. TMJ is a ball and socket type of joint that has a disc between it. Daily tasks such as chewing and biting, talking and yawning are possible because of the TMJ. It is one of the most used joints in the body and consists of muscles, bones and tendons. A jaw and ear pain can result from a fatigued jaw joint or a wear and tear of the surrounding tendons and cartilages.

Causes for Jaw and Ear Pain

The Temporomandibular joint disorders are a group of conditions that affect the relevant joint in the jaw area. They can lead to stiffness, headaches, jaw and ear pain, chewing and biting problems, clicking sounds and locked jaws. The following conditions may lead to Temporomandibular joint disorders with painful circumstances.

  1. Grinding and clenching of teeth during the night increase the wear and tear in the cartilage of the joint. This can lead to severe jaw and ear pain especially after waking up in the morning.
  2. Finger-nail biting and chewing of gum can also increase the usage of the jaw joints and muscles unnecessarily.
  3. Misalignment of teeth and dental problems can cause the jaw to close over each other improperly, causing pain.
  4. Trauma, fractures or damages to the joint can lead to the jaw and ear pain.
  5. Tasks such as holding the receiver of the phone between the ear and shoulder can also cause pain.
  6. Other medical conditions as seizures can also cause ear and jaw pain.

Symptoms of Temporomandibular Joint Diseases

Temporomandibular joint pain may be a result of a medical condition such as seizure or mostly due to overuse of the jaw joint and muscle. Symptoms may be severe and treatment should be targeting to remedy the precipitating factor. Some of the common symptoms are as follows.

  • Headaches - Cold weather and air conditioning and opening and closing of the jaw aggravates the condition.
  • Ear and jaw pain - Ear and jaw pain without any signs of ear infection occur with almost half of TMJ disorders.
  • Sounds - Grinding, crunching or popping sounds may often be seen in patients suffering from TMJ disorders.
  • Dizziness - There may be dizziness along with imbalance.
  • Fullness in the ear - Most people with TMJ complain of soft, dull sounds and clogged ears. This is caused by the dysfunction of the Eustachian tube. This tube maintains pressure in the middle ear. In TMJ, there is hyperactivity of the muscles responsible for regulating the opening and closing of the tube.
  • Ringing in ears - This is also called tinnitus. Patients with jaw and ear pain complain of hearing noises and a buzzing sound in the ear.

Diagnosis of Ear Pain Caused by TMJ

A complete dental and medical examination may be required for detecting TMJ. The presence of one of, the following clues, may aid in diagnosing the problem. Popping, clicking or grating sounds associated with jaw movements increase the possibility of damaged joints. Chewing and biting may become painful, and there will be lock jaw or the mouth may not open properly. The teeth may show loss of all their ridges and have a smooth appearance. There may be symptoms of ear and sinus infection along with the ear and jaw pain. Dental x-rays, CT scan, MRI help detect the bony detail and analyze the soft tissues.

Treatment for Ear and Jaw Pain

Heat and ice, soft or liquidized diet and anti-inflammatory drugs consist of the treatment of acute TMJ. Following are the main treatments and remedial measures that need to be applied in taking care of jaw and ear pains resulting from TMJ cases.

  • Jaw rest - Resting the jaw is essential when diagnosed with TMJ. This can be accomplished by keeping the teeth apart as often as possible. Patients should be advised about methods that help curb teeth grinding habits. A custom made acrylic tool that fits over the teeth may be prescribed at night time to reduce teeth grinding. Patients should also refrain from chewing on gum or eating solid foods such as raw vegetables, candy, nuts etc. Foods that require full opening of the mouth should also be avoided.
  • Heat and ice treatment - Application of heat and ice help relieve muscle spasm and tension. They also help reduce pain. Ice packs should be used for acute injury, whereas, the application of heat may be useful in chronic injuries.
  • Medication - Anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen and steroids help control inflammation. Muscle spasms can be controlled by using muscle relaxants such as diazepam. These medications should be taken as prescribed by a doctor only.
  • Physiotherapy - Physical therapy, massage and electrical stimulation go a long way in helping the opening and closing of the jaw and increasing the strength of the joint.
  • Stress management - Psychological counseling, support groups along with physiotherapy and drugs help reduce muscle tension. Positive feedback from the group improves the overall self esteem and helps provide methods for controlling muscle activity and seizures.
  • Correction of bite abnormalities - Orthodontics may be required in helping to correct dental abnormalities. Proper alignment of teeth can be achieved by adjusting the bridges and crowns. Correcting alignment abnormalities which may be at the root of problems can relieve a patient of chronic jaw and ear pain.
  • Surgery - Surgery is advised where medical treatment does not achieve the desired outcome. In most severe cases arthroscopy, ligament tightening, joint reconstruction or replacement may be necessary.

TMJ disorders refer to the problems of the TMJ joints, its muscle and soft tissues. These can be a result of an injury, infection, disease or may be a part of a problem elsewhere in the head and neck. Patients with TMJ disorders usually visit the doctor with ear and jaw pain, lock jaw and difficulty in biting and chewing. Most often, these can be cured by symptomatic treatment. However, these measures fail at times and advanced medical and dental care may have to be considered.

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