You may remember having ear infections as a kid. The dizziness, pain, and nausea that often accompanied ear pain are quite hard to forget. Ear pain is much less common for adults, yet they visit hospitals with ear pain but it’s often not because of an infection. Ear pain may not necessarily be a result of an ear infection even for children. TMJ disorders can cause pain in the ears as well as pain in the neck, jaw, and shoulders. But, the good news is that TMJ ear pain is very treatable and understanding.
TMJ, rather than just abbreviating the name of the joint, is now medically referred as a disorder occurring in the region known as temporomandibular disorder (TMD). TMJ pain can be relentless enough to hamper the daily life.
The temporal bone of your skull (located on either side of your head just below the temples) attaches through a small disc of cartilage to the mandible, the strong bone of the lower jaw. This attachment allows you to chew, eat, talk and smile – any purpose that is required for the jaw to freely close and open. TMJ occurs when there is swelling, damage, or other abnormalities in the cartilage disc or any of the tendons or muscles in the area of the temporomandibular joint.
Common causes of TMJ include:
Misalignment of teeth or jaw
Teeth grinding( bruxism), Improper bite
Excessive gum chewing
Stress and Some types of arthritis
Gender: Research from National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research(NIDCR) revealed that women experience TMJ disorders at a higher rate than men, so researchers are currently exploring a possible link between female hormones and TMJ disorders. Women who endure fibromyalgia also often have TMJ pain
Age: Women in childbearing years (18-40) have an increased risk and they account for 80% of all TMJ sufferers.
Genetics: Genetic stress response, psychological shape, and propensity to inflammation play a part in risk level for TMJ
Pain tolerance: People with a lower tolerance for pain have an increased risk of developing TMJ and this may also accompany other chronic pain conditions
Ear pain is one of the most common symptoms that people may not recognize as part of TMJ and almost 80% of TMJ patients report ear pain. Associated with TMJ is ear infection and pain around the ear that spreads to the cheeks. Ear pain and TMJ go hand-in-hand.
Ear pain due to TMJ may be experienced as a sharp, searing pain or as dull, throbbing ache. This will be often worse at night and in the morning. Ear pain from TMJ and Ear infection often share overlapping symptoms that can make it hard to diagnose one from the other. Both can produce a sensation of fullness in the ears and cause ear pain. Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and decrease in hearing acuity are also common with both conditions.
There are certain distinguishing conditions to determine if pain is an ear infection or TMJ. Ear infections are a much more common diagnosis if the factors such as recent cold or flu, discharge coming from the ears, Fever and Localized warmth (even redness in the ear).
If none of these factors are present, there are other signs to diagnose TMJ.
TMJ ear pain will be accompanied by other TMJ symptoms like neck pain and headache.
There may be excessive wear on your teeth due to grinding, and you may have other symptoms in your jaw and face.
Your symptoms seem to flare up after when you work your jaw hard
The symptoms don’t resolve on their own and the symptoms don’t respond to antibiotics
TMJ ear pain may be episodic, occurring when the jaw is clenched throughout the night and then disappearing over a period of time.
Despite the fact that TMJ ear pain and TMJ ear pressure are important signs that it is not an ear infection, other symptoms should be present to rule out infection.
There are a variety of treatment options available. Patients might be advised self-care and lifestyle changes to handle mild-to-moderate symptoms such as having only soft foods, avoiding gums, avoiding clenching or tensing the jaw etc. A team-based approach to TMJ ear pain relief and prevention also includes working closely with ENT specialists and dentists. They may recommend exercises or other preventative strategies for TMJ ear pain relief. More specific treatment options may be available for TMJ disorders that are caused by pre-existing conditions. Only in the most extreme cases of TMJ disorder, surgery is recommended.
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