Temporomandibular Joint – Referred Ear Pain

You may not have heard of it, but you use it hundreds of times every day. It is the Temporomandibular joint (TMJ), immediately in front of the ear on each side of your head. It is also called the jaw joint. This joint allows your lower jaw to move, and it is one of the most frequently used of all joints of the body. When you bite down hard, you put force on the object between your teeth and on the joint. More force is applied (per square foot) to the joint surface than to whatever is between your teeth.

TMJ disorders is a common, painful condition affecting the jaw joints and surrounding muscles and ligaments. This and causes pain affecting the TMJ joint and/or the surrounding muscles which frequently gets better of its own accord.

Who gets TMJ Dysfunction?

  • It most commonly affects young adults but can occur in children and older people.
  • Women may be slightly more likely to suffer from it than men.
  • It may occur in people who have a tooth grinding or jaw clenching habit.
  • It may occur when people are stressed or anxious.
  • It may also affect those in certain occupations, where it is necessary to talk frequently or hold the jaw in an awkward position – for example musicians.
  • Various types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
  • The joint is damaged by a blow or other impact.
  • Other causes include teeth that do not fit together properly (improper bite)

Symptoms of TMD:

  • Pain, discomfort or tenderness of the jaw joints and surrounding muscles.
  • A very common focus of pain is on the ear. Many patients come to the ear specialist quite convinced their pain is from an ear infection.
  • Clicking or grinding noises coming from one or both of their jaw joints when they open or close their mouth.
  • Reduced opening of the mouth.
  • Earache, buzzing or a feeling of ‘fullness’ in the ear
  • Headache or dizziness.
  • Frequent head/neck aches/ temple/cheek pain
  • Sleep disturbance.
  • Locking of the jaw
  • Difficulty chewing or pain while chewing.

Is TMD a problem for you?

  • Are you aware of grinding or clenching your teeth?
  • Do you wake up with sore stiff muscles around your jaw?
  • Do you have frequent headaches and neck pains?
  • Does the pain get worse when you clench your teeth?
  • Does your jaw click, pop or lock when you open your mouth?
  • Is it difficult or painful to open your mouth, eat or yawn?
  • Have you injured your neck, head or jaw?
  • Do your teeth meet differently from time to time or do they no longer touch when you bite.

The more you have answered yes, the more likely it is that you have a TMJ disorder.

What Can Be Done for TMD?

Because TMJ symptoms often develop in the head and neck, ENT specialists are appropriately qualified to diagnose TMJ problems:

  • Rest the muscles and joints by eating soft foods and use both sides at the same time
  • Chew with your back teeth rather than biting with your front teeth
  • Eat a soft diet
  • Avoid oral habits that put a strain on jaw muscles and joints like chewing gum
  • Avoid clenching or tensing
  • Relax muscles with moist heat or cold (whichever feels better). Use for 10-20 minutes three or four times a day
  • Exercise your jaw by opening and closing your mouth keeping the teeth aligned
  • A soft plastic bite guard to cover the teeth may sometimes be made by your dentist to prevent you clenching too hard at night
  • Ensure you get a good night’s sleep.  
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