Ear pain associated with TMJ results from the spread of the inflammation from the jaw area. The ear is less than half an inch away from the temporo-mandibular joint, so as the joint swells and becomes tender, the inflammation does not have a long way to spread. The ear is composed of three parts: an outer part, a middle part and an inner part. With TMJ, most of the pain around the ear develops from the middle part. This is because it is in the closest proximity for the jaw area.
Normally TMJ related ear pain is a dull ache. Although it can be sharp, it is more common to have an occasional sharp sensation superimposed upon the dull ache. Likewise, the pain usually worsens with jaw movement. This suggests that TMJ dysfunction is related to the ear discomfort. When the TMJ improves, so does the ear pain. Even resting the jaw can often result in less ear symptoms.
It is difficult to distinguish TMJ related ear pain from other causes of ear problems. Some of the other common ear problems can include ear infections, nerve disorders of the ear, and generalized allergies. However, if the ear pain is related with jaw activity, TMJ is a strong consideration. In the absence of fever and with a normal ear exam, infections are less likely as are allergies much of the time. Nerve disorders usually worsen with many facial movements, not just jaw movements. Therefore, once these conditions are excluded, other TMJ symptoms are investigated.
As with many TMJ symptoms, other conditions must first be assessed. In their absence, the case for TMJ becomes more likely.
Other TMJ Symptoms: