Lower jaw toothache and ear pain in the same side: what does it mean?

Ever experienced lower jaw toothache and ear pain in the same side and wondered why? Sometimes the ear and jaw pain on the same side is so intertwined, that person doesn’t really figure out if originates in the former or the latter. In this article, we are going to explain all the possible reasons with their solutions for ear or jaw pain. So if you are looking for the answer to your pain in these areas, make sure not to miss this article.

How come toothache and ear are related?

Even though the ear and jaw are anatomically two distinct areas, they come in a very close relationship when it comes to the nerve supply. Toothache can cause ear pain and vice versa. There are two main reasons for this connection:

  • Nerve supply
  • Anatomical structures

The muscle in the ear is supplied by the same nerve that innervates the muscles in the lower jaw that are responsible for chewing. This nerve is also responsible for the innervation of the teeth. This explains why toothache in the lower jaw can trigger pain in the ear area as well. 

The lower jaw and the ear canal are positioned in a way that has a close interaction with each other. Sometimes these two might cross paths and work together. However, most of the time one triggers the other. So the next time you ask why my ear hurts when I chew something, you might know the reasons. But how? Let us explain.

Inflammation, joint disorders, infection in the bone and joint, or any other trigger that causes pain in TMJ, are also felt in the ear.

Toothache and earache at the same time

As we have mentioned before, our ears and jaws are in such close proximity that the culprit behind ear pain or tooth pain could be either one of them. Many external or internal factors, affect one of the two links between the jaw and ear, resulting in simultaneous pain. The factors contributing to these conditions are listed below from the most common to the least ones:

  • Temporomandibular joint disoreder
  • Dental problems
  • Tooth grinding and bruxism
  • Ear infection
  • Jaw injuries
  • Trigeminal neuralgia

Temporomandibular joint disorder

TMJ is adjacent to the inner and middle ear. this joint is responsible for jaw mobility and plays a crucial role in speaking and chewing. TMJ engages these joints and surrounding muscles and ligaments. The most common symptoms are:

  • Jaw pain and tenderness
  • Joint pain on one or both sides
  • Pain and discomfort in the ear
  • Pain in the face 
  • Headache
  • Limited jaw mobility resulting in difficulty chewing and opening the mouth

The pain in the jaw and ear is sharp and consistent with a feeling of pressure in the ear canal. A wide variety of reasons can cause TMJ including bite abnormalities and malocclusion, osteoarthritis, bruxism, types of arthritis, jaw injury, psychological reasons, and wear or tear.

Treatment: The treatment options vary based on the underlying cause. Using over-the-counter muscle relaxants and painkillers can help manage the pain. Anti-inflammatory agents are also useful. Medical intervention is required regardless of the source of the problem. Surgery is usually the last resort. Consult with your doctor for the best treatment plan and a fast recovery. 

Dental Problems

Dental problems are among the prime suspects when it comes to lower jaw toothache and ear pain in the same time. The connection between the teeth and jaws and the indirect link to the ears are responsible for this pain radiation. The most common dental problems to be blamed for pain in the ears and jaws are:

  • Dental abscess
  • Malocclusion
  • Cavities
  • Wisdom tooth eruption
  • Broken tooth

But how?

Dental abscess

A dental abscess is a dental infection that was left untreated and pus formed around the tooth or inside the gum. This pus formation and inflammation around the infected tooth causes swelling. The swelling presses the nerve which leads to an excruciating toothache that can radiate to the ear on the same side. This problem is usually accompanied by bad breath, gum bleeding, and pain while eating.

Treatment: Draining the pus and cleaning the bacterial infection, relieves the pain. The doctor prescribes antibiotics to prevent recurrent infections. Sometimes root canal treatments or tooth extraction are essential. Home remedies such as cold compress can help reduce the pain until the patient receives professional treatment.

Malocclusion

Misalignment in the jaw leads to uneven bite force distribution resulting in pain. This uneven force puts more pressure on teeth and subsequently the jaw joint. As a result, the jaw movements become painful, the person finds difficulty opening the mouth, and chewing. These movements also leave a great impact on the ear canal, causing discomfort and pain. This condition affects muscle arrangement as well. Following the poor distribution of the biting force and improper function of the jaw joint, jaw muscles work more to compensate for this deficiency. After a while, this extra work causes muscle exhaustion. Muscles become stiff and spastic, which is a very painful condition. The agony is also felt in the ear,  as this stiffness also affects the muscle in that area. 

Treatment: For resolving this issue, the patient can benefit from orthodontic treatments that fix the occlusion.

Cavities

Toothache, mouth pain, jaw pain, and pain in the ear can indicate tooth decay or dental cavity. When your molar teeth at the back of your mouth are affected, the pain travels all the way to the ear on the same side. This is due to the common innervation of the teeth and ears.

Treatment: Proper treatment such as filling, root canal, or tooth extraction also results in subsiding the pain. 

Wisdom tooth eruption

An Impacted wisdom tooth that is trapped inside the gum tissue is another trigger for sharp pain in your jaw and ear on the same side. The wisdom tooth that hasn’t erupted yet, puts a lot of pressure on the neighboring teeth and the gums. If the wisdom doesn’t come out on its own, the dentist should interfere and extract it. By removing the source of the pressure, the pain in the jaw bone and ear on the tooth side will vanish. On the other hand, sometimes the tooth pushes the adjacent tissues while erupting. The pain continues until the tooth comes out. Painkillers can be beneficial for this occasional pain.

Broken tooth

One reason behind the simultaneous lower jaw toothache and ear pain can be a broken tooth. When a tooth breaks, the nerve becomes exposed to many pain triggers. The nerve connection between teeth and the ear causes ear pain when the nerve is triggered. 

Treatment: Root canal treatment is the best choice for an exposed nerve. Other options include dental crowns, fillings, and implants.

Tooth grinding and bruxism

Grinding and clenching teeth put a lot of pressure on not only the teeth and jaw bone but also the joints and the muscles. Teeth grinding can affect the structures as far as the neck. The pressure imposed on the jaw bone and the temporomandibular joint is also transferred to the ear, resulting in pain. Chronic bruxism causes the teeth to be worn down and finally break and fall off. 

Treatment: Wearing a mouthguard can help with this condition. Stress management and avoiding stressful situations are other helpful ways to get rid of jaw and ear pain.

Ear infection

Because of the similar nerve, an ear infection can cause toothache on the same side as the infected ear. This infection can happen as a result of several reasons and the most common one is a moist ear canal. This is the perfect place for bacterial growth. The pain usually radiates to the molar teeth on the same side and leads to toothache, jaw, and ear pain on the same side at the same side.

Treatment: Treating the infection is the solution to alleviate this pain. The doctor prescribes antibiotics and drops to eradicate the infection completely. OTC painkillers come in handy for this regional pain.

Jaw injuries

Ever felt ear and jaw pain after an incident? A fall? A minor accident? Or after someone hit you on the head? This can indicate your jaw has been injured. A broken jaw or injury to the muscles in this area causes pain that can go as far as the ear. In addition to that, jaw injury can damage the tooth up to the tooth root, and even in severe cases cause the tooth to become loose. This toothache due to trauma radiates to the jaw bone and ear, causing pain on the injured side.

Treatment: In cases like this medical intervention is required. The pain is manageable by over-the-counter pain relieving agents, but the patient should visit a doctor as soon as possible to seek treatment and surgeries if needed.

Trigeminal neuralgia

A not very common, yet possible reason for toothache, and jaw and ear pain on the same side is called trigeminal neuralgia. This is a condition that originates from the trigeminal nerve. This nerve is responsible for the nervous supply of not only the jaws and ears but the face. Trigeminal neuralgia occurs as a result of many conditions such as:

  • Facial trauma
  • After a dental procedure
  • The trigeminal nerve is pressed by other structures or blood vessels.

Patients who suffer from this condition, describe it as a sharp sudden pain that radiates to the teeth, ear, and jaw, as well as facial pain. These episodes of pain are short, usually lasting from a few seconds to at most 2 minutes. 

Treatment: The doctors prescribe specific medications that block the transferring path of the pain to relieve it. Sometimes surgery is performed to release the nerve from the pressure.

When is too late to visit my dentist?

Usually, it is recommended to visit your dentist, if your toothache persists for more than two days. It is never too late to visit your dentist to seek treatment, but sometimes you might need to take action faster.

If you have simultaneous lower jaw toothache and ear pain on one side, some symptoms may indicate that you are a bit late for your dental visit. These symptoms include:

  • Tooth Sensitivity
  • Bleeding gums
  • Swollen gums
  • Chronic bad breath
  • Tooth loosening
  • Tooth loss
  • Difficulty in opening the mouth or chewing
  • Throbbing pain that disturbs sleep at nights

These signs show the tooth infection has spread and reached the root, affecting the jaw joint as well. If a dental problem, especially in the lower jaw, is associated with pain and discomfort in the ear the patient should immediately visit their dentist. This prevents further complications and helps subside the pain in the tooth, jaw, and ear at the same time.

References:

Gauer RL, Semidey MJ. Diagnosis and treatment of temporomandibular disorders. Am Fam Physician. 2015 Mar 15;91(6):378-86. PMID: 25822556.

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