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Don’t ignore your earache – it could be a sign of TMD

11 December 2023

Sometimes, temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is disguised as another condition.

Commonly, ear pain is caused by an ear infection. Because of this, many people may make an assumption that their earache is temporary, and wait for it to pass, or seek treatment for an infection. Some may even blame allergies for their earache.[i]

But, if the pain lasts longer than a week, without the usual symptoms of an infection, it may be caused by TMD.[ii]

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of ear infections can be very similar to those of TMD-related issues. Research suggests that 76.5% of TMD patients experience earache symptoms,[iii] making this a fairly common sign of the condition. Shared symptoms of ear infection and TMD may include:

  • Ear pain
  • Pressure in the ears
  • Tinnitus
  • Muffled hearing
  • Headache[iv]

However, there are a number of symptoms which may help to tell the two apart. With ear infections often also causing pain inside the ear, a warm feeling around the ear, and discharge. Whereas TMJ will more likely cause pain outside the ear and sharp pains when moving the jaw.[v]

Additionally, ear infections commonly follow another illness, and TMD is often associated with other symptoms such as jaw pains and sounds.[vi]

Why does TMD affect the ear?

Research suggests that earache and tinnitus symptoms are likely caused by the relationship between the jaw joint, the facial muscles, and the structures of the ear.[vii] As such, those who regularly experience pain around the ears should seek advice of a medical or dental professional, as it is a common symptom of TMD.

What are the options?

There are a number of causes of TMD which should be considered when seeking treatment. These include:

  • Overuse – excessive yawning, talking, singing, and wide movements.
  • Teeth grinding – clenching or grinding the teeth when stressed or sleeping.
  • Eating hard foods – putting excess stress on the jaw joint.
  • Trauma – TMD may stem from recent trauma to the head or face.
  • Arthritis – inflamed or degraded tissues around the joint.[viii]

Understanding what might be causing the TMD can help to inform treatment. There are a number of treatment options which may help to reduce TMD symptoms. These include:

  • Medicine – such as ibuprofen to relieve inflammation.
  • Mouthguard – particularly useful to reduce the effects of teeth grinding.
  • Lifestyle changes – stress relief and reducing use to prevent excess strain.
  • Exercises and stretches – such as passive stretching using the OraStretch Press.
  • Dietary changes – replacing hard foods with a temporary soft food diet.

Author: Phil Silver



[iii] Najafi, Shamsoulmolouk, et al. “The Incidence Rate of Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction in Patients with Earache.” Journal of Craniomaxillofacial Research (2020).




[vii] Maria de Felício, Cláudia, et al. “Otologic symptoms of temporomandibular disorder and effect of orofacial myofunctional therapy.” CRANIO® 26.2 (2008): 118-125.


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