Jaw and Ear Pain: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

A lot of us have often experienced debilitating jaw and ear pain, also known as mandibular pain or temporomandibular pain. While the pain can make it incredibly difficult for one to eat and even talk properly, the condition is usually harmless and chances are it will resolve itself in a matter of weeks or months, depending on its gravity. Jaw and ear pain, or mandibular pain, usually occurs unannounced and may cause one to panic, thinking that maybe the jaw bone got stuck or something similar.

In my case, the pain took about 15 days to disappear and I got to resume my normal life immediately after. However, it was not easy having to deal with it for two weeks and I had to be very careful not to stress the jaw even more than it already was with foods that required a lot of chewing, talking too much or resting my chin in the palm of my hand. But let me tell you about it.

Jaw and ear pain

I woke up one morning with a sort of clenched jaw sensation and experiencing quite a lot of pain in my lower jaw and ear area. Chewing, talking and any form of jaw movement was extremely difficult because of the pain. But the pain disappeared as soon as I closed my mouth and kept it shut. While my family would have loved to believe that it was a sign I was talking too much, what caused my mandibular pain was not so incredible after all. The night before I got myself several bags of sunflower seeds and enjoyed them while I was working at the computer. The continuous effort of trying to crack the seeds put a strain on my lower jaw and left it tense and hurting.

As I suspected, the pain came from a nerve inflammation as a result of my constant chewing. If you experience a similar pain in the jaw that leaves you unable to eat or talk properly, try placing a finger right below the ear lobe, where you might feel tension. Then open your mouth and you have found the inflammation point causing the pain. Gentle pressing might help alleviate the pain for the moment, but will not treat the problem.

Unless you have teeth alignment or existing jaw bone problems, experiencing pain in the area between your jaw and you ear is a sign of mandibular tension and possibly inflammation, called temporomandibular pain (it involves the temporal and mandible areas). It is important to see a doctor even though you may identify the cause of your jaw and ear pain yourself.

Mandibular pain

Most of the time, mandibular pain is a harmless condition brought about by similarly harmless actions. Here is a list of potential causes of jaw and ear pain:
1) Chewing too hard or too much.
2) Grinding teeth during sleep or while awake.
3) Jaw clenching.
4) Stress causing teeth grinding or jaw clenching.
5) Bad posture (resting your chin in your hand for prolonged periods of time puts pressure on the jaw).
6) Dental work that my alter normal bite (surgery, dentures).
7) Consuming hard foods that require a lot of chewing.
8) Injury (fracture, dislocation) or disease (chronic pain or fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis etc.)
These are rare occurrences.

Symptoms also vary from tension and pain to problems chewing and talking. Here are potential signs that accompany the jaw and ear pain:
1) Pain starting from the lower jaw up to the ear lobe (mandible pain).
Pain may also be experienced at the level of the cheek bone of the affected side.
2) Tension in the lower jaw or jaw becoming stuck.
3) Popping or clicking jaw.
4) Problems closing mouth, chewing and talking.
5) Tenderness of face muscles.
6) Teeth pain.
7) Neck tension and pain, headaches.
8) Buzzing or ringing ears.
Depending on the severity of the pain, you might be experiencing sleep problems such as insomnia.

While my experience with mandible pain was not very scary, I did have to take great care to ease the strain I usually put on my jaw and ear joint. And, luckily, I was back to my normal self in about two weeks. While the pain may take up to several months to completely disappear for some people, with a little luck and great care your condition might improve a lot faster. Here are 5 things you can do to ease jaw and ear pain:

1) Apply dry, warm compresses alternating with cold compresses for several minutes a day.
2) Eat soft foods: mashed potatoes, cauliflower, peas, etc.
3) Avoid screaming or talking too much and opening the mouth all the way.
4) Help relax the area by massaging it or moving it slowly.
5) Avoid chewing gum, eating nuts, seeds, bitting nails or spitting.
6) Correct posture by avoiding resting your chin in the palm of your hand.
7) Try not to clench the jaw or grind your teeth, if possible.
8) While I did not use anti-inflammatory medication, your doctor might advise you in this direction.

Conclusion: The area from our lower jaw up to the ear lobe is a sensitive one and excessive chewing, resting the chin in the palm of our hand all the time, eating hard foods that require a lot of chewing, clenching our jaw or grinding our teeth can put a lot of strain on it, resulting in mandible pain and difficult use of the mouth. So make sure you are doing all you can to prevent potentially debilitating jaw and ear pain.

48 Replies to “Jaw and Ear Pain: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment”

  1. Hi doctor,
    I am experiencing pain in my jaw and ears on the right side.
    The pain is uncontrollable when I lie down to sleep. I don’t know how to sleep. The only position which makes me feel better is sleeping on my stomach with my ear and face on the right side with my hands underneath the pillow. It’s taxing on my back. Please suggest what is the problem and how will it go away.

    • Hello, Amrita. Know that I am not a doctor (please read the disclaimer). This being said, there could be a number of causes behind your jaw and ear pain (infection, injury or others). The best thing you can do is see a doctor as soon as possible. Tell the doctor when the pain started, what you were doing at that time and whether or not you have any other symptoms (example: a discharge from the ear, redness, itching, lumps, scratches, any symptom you might have noticed). Any information you can provide could help the doctor advise you best. So please make an appointment as soon as you can because if you can’t sleep from the pain, your jaw and ear pain could already be getting serious. Wishing you lots of health and hope to hear back from you with good news.

    • Thanks a lot.
      The doctor suggested some medicines and I am taking them. The bone behind my ear still hurts and so does the pressure in my right ear. Sleeping is uncomfortable.

      Is this a TMJ problem or a muscle pull or an ear infection or something else?
      The doctor does not diagnose, he just gives the medicines.

    • Hello, Amrita. The doctor surely gave you the medicines with a diagnosis in mind, but he should have told you too. You can tell what is your diagnosis based on what medicines he prescribed, but you can call the doctor’s office and ask for you diagnosis yourself. It’s your right know. As for what it may be, I can’t know. Only the doctor that did the examination can, based on the symptoms he or she observed and others you may have described. The important thing is that you went to the doctor and received treatment. If your jaw and ear pain does not improve with treatment, see your doctor for a follow-up. Wishing you lots of health and hope to hear back from you with good news.

  2. Hi, doctor, I feel heaviness in my left ear and a crunch in my left jaw while eating. Even when I yawn in the morning after waking up, I feel pain my left jaw point. It happened earlier as well but this time it has been accompanied by pain in left ear. I am very stressed. Please tell what I should do.

    • Hello, Harsh. First of all, know that I am not a doctor (it says so in the disclaimer). Secondly, I am sorry to hear about your jaw and ear pain. It is important to make an appointment with your doctor for a diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible. You should tell the doctor when the pain started, what happened when you first experienced the jaw and ear pain (were you yawning, eating, sleeping, swimming, exercising etc.), if you have other symptoms (discharge from the ear, redness or skin rash, itching, swelling etc.) or are in the habit of resting your chin in the palm of your hand, eating foods that are hard to chew, had a respiratory or other infection recently etc. Anything you can tell the doctor represents important information that will help with the diagnosis. Because the doctor needs to see you and find out how the jaw and ear pain came to be in order to help you. Wishing you lots of health and hope to hear back from you with good news.

  3. I wake up with the pain in my ear and throat – sometimes neck. what is odd is that when I am awake the pain is triggered by moving my tongue. How does this sound to you? Not sure if this is dental or medical issue.

    • Hello, Fae. Usually, pain in the throat and ear, especially a sharp pain triggered by movement or swallowing could indicate an infection, often of the tonsils, but also an otitis. There should be other symptoms to an infection such as fever, discharge, sore throat etc. But because you also experience pain in your neck and it’s triggered by movement of the tongue, it’s best to see a doctor for further investigation.

      Make sure you tell the doctor:
      – When the pain started.
      – What you remember doing around the time the pain began.
      – Where exactly does the pain originate in your neck.
      – What type of pain you are experiencing (dull, sharp, you name it).
      – Any other symptoms you have experienced since the beginning of the ear and throat pain.
      Wishing you lots of health and hope to hear back from you with good news.

  4. Everything you have described I have. I’ve gone to TMJ specialists, orthodontists, have done botox, splints, DTR therapy, physical therapy, night guards, Invisalign, psychotherapy, medication, neck MRI, jaw MRI, and have made little progress. I’ve lost 3 and a half years of my life and $30,000. TMJ is the devil.

    • I am so sorry to hear this, Brandon. One would expect conditions to show some improvements after such a long time and such financial efforts. Have the doctors at least identified the root problem of your temporomandibular pain? I’m assuming someone must have after all of these tests.
      In the meanwhile, how do you manage you symptoms? Hot packs, eating soft food such as baby food or food you mash with a food processor, taking vitamin C, anti-inflammatory medication or eating anti-inflammatory foods? And do you find any of the things you are doing to manage the pain help? Eager to hear back from you.

  5. Thank you! This was so helpful. I thought I was going crazy. My ears being blocked all the time is unbearable. I can hear my own blood flow, and that’s only the ears! Then there is the jaw. I thought I had a tooth canal infection and I was more paranoid reading about infections and pus that can be trapped in the jaw. (The pain started on my left side of my jaw then the right side started hurting too, but not as bad) But this article hit everything on the spot. Thank you too much.

    • I am so happy you found this article on jaw and ear pain helpful, Aseel. Now that you know what’s going on, it’s time to see a doctor and find out what causes your jaw and ear pain and see what you can do about it. Do you have any thoughts on the possible causes? Also, you may find it useful to the article on 11 causes of ear fullness. Maybe it can offer more insight into your problem. Wishing you lots of health.

    • When did the pain start? Has it become worse since then?
      What do you mean you feel something: a lump, swelling, a tender area or something else?
      Do you experience any other symptoms like a discharge, redness etc.?
      Do you have symptoms of an infection: earache or pain in the ear, fever, hearing problems or others?
      Does it hurt when you chew food, swallow food or water or talk?
      Please think about the answer to these questions and make an appointment with your doctor as soon as you can.

    • Hello, Mahlatse. Do you mean sleeping, or did you fall or hurt your ear or jaw somehow? Do you have a sore throat, earache or actual jaw pain?
      In any case, please make an appointment with your doctor. Remember to tell the doctor all of the symptoms you have been experiencing, even symptoms you may think are unrelated, when they started, if they’ve gotten worse or improved etc. Wishing you lots of health!

  6. Hi. For the last couple of weeks I had a dull pain in my left side of my jaw but recently the pain has got worse and now my left ear is starting to hurt. At first I thought it was just my molars but I’m not sure. Any information would be really appreciated, thanks.

    • Hi, Sophie. It could be worth seeing a dentist. Maybe there is a hidden cavity that is giving you trouble and causing inflammation. At the same time, you should consider an ear infection as a possibility. An outer ear infection, a middle ear infection, an inner ear infection are all possible causes. Or a throat infection, even a tonsillitis.
      Have you noticed other symptoms like a discharge from the ear, red or sore throat, inflamed tonsils or white spots on the tonsils and back of the throat? In any case, since it’s been so long already, a visit to the doctor’s office is in order. Up until a doctor has seen you, these are merely suppositions.
      Make sure you tell the doctor all the symptoms you’ve experienced, noticed, how long the pain has been going on for and how it’s evolved. Hope this helps and wishing you lots of health, Sophie!

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