Pain in the ear and jaw can range from mild aches to intense pain. Numerous conditions can cause ear and jaw pain, including mouth or ear infections, joint injuries, and tooth grinding. Treatment can depend on the cause.

It can be difficult for a doctor to diagnose a person based on pain in the ear and jaw alone, so they will consider a person’s risk factors and recent medical history.

For example, a person who has not been to the dentist in many years and has a history of tooth pain may have pain due to a cavity.

This article lists some potential causes of ear and jaw pain, home remedies to try before seeing a doctor, and some medical treatment options.

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Problems with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) can cause a wide range of symptoms, including, most often, ear and jaw pain. Some people also get headaches or pain that spreads to the neck.

Several conditions and factors can cause TMJ pain, including:

  • grinding the teeth
  • problems with the alignment of the jaw or teeth
  • physical trauma to the head or face
  • stress
  • joint wear and tear

Although TMJ can be painful, home treatment can help a person manage or even eliminate symptoms. This may include:

Some doctors may also suggest botox injections to help relieve pain and other TMJ symptoms.

Grinding the teeth, or bruxism, places stress on the muscles of the face, neck, and jaw. The tension can cause pain in the jaw and the wider face.

Tooth grinding is most common when a person is awake, but it can also happen at night when someone is asleep.

Some people may also damage their teeth, slowly grinding them down or even breaking them.

The sternocleidomastoid is a thick muscle that extends from just under the ear down to the collarbone. Injuries to this muscle can cause jaw and ear pain, sinus pain, and eye pressure.

When a person has these symptoms but has no injuries and no other signs of infection — such as a fever or runny nose — an injury to the sternocleidomastoid may be the culprit.

A doctor can rule out other causes by carrying out a physical examination.

A tooth abscess can sometimes cause pain that radiates to the ear or jaw.

Other symptoms can include:

  • redness on the jaw or inside the mouth
  • difficulty opening the mouth
  • sensitivity to hot or cold food and drink in the affected area
  • swelling on the face and jaw
  • a high temperature

Sometimes, the pain in the teeth disappears and then reappears as pain in the ear or jaw, which may signal that the infection is spreading.

An ear infection can cause intense pain in, around, or behind the ear. Sometimes, this pain radiates to the jaw, sinuses, or teeth.

In most cases, viruses or bacteria cause infections in the middle ear. However, ear infections can also occur in the outer ear canal, such as when water or other fluids build up in the ear and allow bacteria or fungus to grow.

A person with an ear infection may have other symptoms, such as:

Untreated ear infections can spread to other parts of the body. Some people develop an infection called mastoiditis, which is an infection in the mastoid bone near the ear.

When this happens, a person may experience swelling close to the ear, hearing problems, or a high fever. Severe cases of mastoiditis can be life threatening and require immediate treatment.

An injury, such as a broken jaw or a strain or sprain in the surrounding muscles, could cause jaw pain that radiates to the ear.

A person may need to seek medical treatment if they experience ear and jaw pain after the following:

  • falling over
  • a car accident
  • a blow to the head

It is typically safe to treat ear and jaw pain at home when it is not due to an underlying infection or a severe injury. People can try the following strategies:

  • Sleep with a mouth guard to prevent tooth grinding.
  • Try applying heat or ice to the injury to ease pain and promote healing.
  • Gently massage the jaw to reduce muscle tension.
  • Take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil).
  • Try stretching the sternocleidomastoid by tilting the ear toward the shoulder and holding it there for a few seconds. Repeat on the other side.
  • Stretch the jaw muscles by opening the mouth and jutting out the lower jaw, then holding this position for a few seconds. Next, try moving the teeth forward and back and from side to side in a circular motion.

Bacterial ear infections almost always require antibiotics, though, in some cases, a doctor may monitor the infection before prescribing antibiotics.

Sometimes, a person may need other medical treatments, particularly for serious infections, such as mastoiditis.

Depending on the cause of ear and jaw pain, medical treatment options may include:

It is best to see a healthcare professional for ear and jaw pain if:

  • there are signs of an infection, such as fever or swelling
  • the pain appears immediately after an injury
  • the gums start to swell, or the teeth hurt
  • symptoms do not improve within a few days of home treatment
  • a doctor prescribes antibiotics or other treatment, but treatment does not help
  • ear or jaw pain becomes unbearable
  • a baby or young child with ear and jaw pain does not stop crying

Below are some frequently asked questions about ear and jaw pain.

What does it mean if a person’s jaw and ear hurts?

Various conditions can cause pain in the jaw and ear, including infections, tooth grinding, and physical injuries. A person should contact a doctor for a proper diagnosis if their pain is severe or does not improve with home remedies.

Can TMJ come on suddenly?

TMJ disorder pain typically comes on or worsens after jaw movement, such as yawning or chewing. Sudden pain affecting this area may indicate a different cause. People can speak with a doctor for a diagnosis.

How can someone treat TMJ ear fullness?

OTC pain relief and applying an ice or heat pack may help to relieve TMJ symptoms that affect the ear. If symptoms do not improve, people should speak with a doctor for further advice and treatment.

Conditions that can cause ear and jaw pain include ear or tooth infections, tooth grinding, physical injuries, and more. Treatment will depend on the underlying cause.

Ear and jaw pain can be extremely unpleasant. Prompt medical treatment can help, even when there is an underlying chronic condition.

Home treatment, including OTC pain relief, may help, but a person should speak with a healthcare professional if symptoms persist.

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