The ears and jaw are two distinct parts of the body located close to one another. When pain presents in the two areas simultaneously, it either indicates an issue that directly affects both sites, or it could be pain that radiates to the ear and jaw area but originates elsewhere. 

Here are some of the most common underlying causes of ear and jaw pain:
woman has ear pain

Most common causes of ear and jaw pain

1) TMJ disorders
Ear and jaw pain is often linked to TMJ disorders (TMJD). To better understand what these disorders entail, it is important to know what TMJ is. The temporomandibular joint is the joint of the jaw and is commonly referred to as TMJ. The name of the joint comes from the two bones that form the joint, the upper temporal bone part of the skull and the lower jawbone or mandible. 

According to data published by the National Institute of Health, 5 to 10 percent of the population suffers from temporomandibular disorder (TMJ disorder), causing millions to endure TMJ symptoms such as facial pain and ear discomfort due to inflammation and pain. Interestingly, there is no standard definition for the disorder. Instead, doctors diagnose the condition by assessing certain factors such as joint and facial pain duration, difficulty chewing, and the presence of joint sounds. 

If your symptoms have persisted for over three months, your condition is considered chronic. Unfortunately, healthcare providers sometimes incorrectly diagnose patients as having the disorder, while they actually have something completely different, such as sleep apnea or fibromyalgia. 
2) Swimmer's ear
Swimmer's ear is often implicated and blamed for the symptoms of simultaneous ear and jaw pain. Swimmer's ear - or otitis externa - is a bacterial infection typically caused by water that stays in the outer ear canal for an extended period, providing a moist environment for bacteria to grow. Although anyone can get a swimmer's ear, it is most commonly seen in children.

It is recommended to seek help from a healthcare provider because leaving the condition untreated can lead to severe consequences and even lead to ear and jaw pain. 
3) Teeth grinding
Teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, is another potential cause of developing TMJ. Bruxism is a condition when you grind or clench your teeth. If you have bruxism, you may unconsciously clench your teeth when you're awake or clench or grind them while asleep.

Although teeth grinding does not sound extremely serious, it can lead to a TMJ disorder and cause ear pain and discomfort in the jaw. Chronic teeth grinding can also have a detrimental impact on your teeth, causing teeth misalignment, erosion and adversely affect the muscles surrounding your jaws.
4) Arthritis
If you have arthritis, one or more of your joints are inflamed or swollen. The term arthritis encompasses over a hundred different disorders that affect the joints, connective tissues, and other tissues surrounding the joints. The symptoms can vary depending on the type of arthritis you have, but joint pain and stiffness are generally hallmark symptoms. 

Osteoarthritis is one of the most common causes of temporomandibular joint disorders result from wear and tear to the cartilage that surrounds the joints.

Rheumatoid or psoriatic arthritis, on the other hand, are considered autoimmune, which means that your immune system is thought to attack your joints. Both of these types of arthritis cause significant pain throughout the body, which can include TMJ.
5) Sinus infections
Sinus infections can also be the culprit for ear and jaw pain. Anything that can cause the sinus cavities to become filled with mucus, such as the common cold, allergies, or eustachian tube dysfunction, can potentially lead to sinusitis and inflamed nasal passages. 
6) Dental problems
Poor oral health leads to various dental issues, such as cavities, gingivitis, and periodontal disease. Without proper treatment, all these conditions lead to bacteria buildup and can result in severe complications. Ear and jaw pain is one of the tell-tale signs of serious dental issues. 

As you can see, ear and jaw pain can be rooted in many different health problems. Although it can be challenging to identify the underlying cause, looking for other signs and symptoms can help you and your healthcare provider pinpoint the issue. 

For instance, TMJ has many different symptoms besides ear and jaw pain. It is not uncommon for those suffering from TMJ disorders or TMJ dysfunction to experience ear ringing, hearing loss, headache, facial pain, or jaw locking and clicking. 

Swimmer's ear is often accompanied by fever and drainage from the affected ear, while a sinus infection usually comes with annoying nasal congestion and a loss of smell or taste. 

How do doctors diagnose ear and jaw pain?

To get to the bottom of the pain in your ear and jaw, your healthcare provider will likely conduct a physical exam and ask you some relevant questions to understand your health history better. If taking these steps is not sufficient, your provider may recommend an X-ray or MRI. 

What treatment options are available for ear and jaw pain?

Depending on the diagnosis, treatment may vary from person to person. The vast majority of TMJ cases resolve on their own without any treatment. However, if your pain persists over an extended period or if you are in a lot of discomfort, you should not delay seeking medical attention. 
Some people find relief by resting their jaw or applying a warm or cold compress to the affected area throughout the day. Performing jaw-stretching exercises can also be very helpful. Naturally, paying attention to your oral health by practicing good oral hygiene is very important to reduce bacteria in the mouth. It is equally beneficial to reduce stress and include more soft foods in your diet.

What is the key takeaway?

Numerous reasons could be responsible for the pain in your ear and jaw area. While both regions may be affected, it is also possible that the source of the pain is elsewhere and what you feel is actually referred pain. Regardless, it is crucial to talk to your doctor and figure out the root cause of your health issue. 

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only. You should not use the information as a substitute for, nor should it replace, professional medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other health-care professional.