Patients often ask us ‘why do I have jaw & ear pain. It’s a good question. Often you know why you have a pain in the back or neck – too much gardening or driving etc. But the jaw – that seems to be a bit of mystery.
If you have neck and jaw pain rather than jaw and ear pain click on the link above.
So this article will explain the causes of jaw & ear pain, but will also go further & explain how it can be treated. After all it’s nice to know why you have a pain, but it’s much nicer to get rid of that pain!
What Causes Jaw & Ear Pain
As with all pain there can be a number of causes and without taking a full case history for your particular case the information below can only be taken as a guide.
First off lets rule out heart problems – so skip to the next paragraph if you know this isn’t the cause of the pain. If you are still with me on this paragraph then you need to know that heart problems can cause jaw & ear pain this is known as referred pain. If you also have tightness or gripping in the chest or shortness of breath or pain down into the arm then please see a doctor or present yourself to hospital straight away.
OK here we are post heart discussion – so what else can cause jaw & ear pain, musculo-skeletal problems are the most common & I will cover these in detail below, As well as this teeth problems (cavities, abscesses, infections etc) and ear & sinus infections can cause jaw & ear pain. So it maybe worth seeing your dentist, but read on first as only yesterday I saved a patient her dental fee – she was booked in with me for neck pain but asked me about the jaw pain she was having. After 30 minutes of treatment she left pain free & cancelled her dentist appointment, she had a strain in one of the ligaments of the jaw. We will explore below how you will know whether its your teeth or your jaw.
Musculoskeletal Causes of Jaw & Ear Pain
The jaw is made up of 2 bones – the temporal bone and the mandible bone.these 2 bones come together to make a joint – this gives us T for temporal, M for Mandiblle & J for Joint – the TMJ, you may have heard of the TMJ or TMJ Syndrome, this is label for longstanding pain in the jaw.
Any displacement of the temporal or the mandible can lead to pain as the joint is protected by ligaments & moved by muscles, so displacement can strain these ligaments & muscles just like in the knee joint or any other joint. So trauma can cause jaw pain, & often a past trauma to the jaw will only surface months or years later as the original injury had caused dysfunction of the TMJ which led to wear & tear on the joint over time as it worked in an inefficient way.
What makes the TMJ complex as a joint is that it has lots of influences on it from above and below.
Influences on the Jaw from Below
From below anterior neck & throat tightness can be causing a pull on the jaw – if you feel up under your jaw often you can feel its easier to press into the tissue on on side or the other, this would indicate imbalance. This could cause one side of the jaw to open easier than the other which can cause wear & tear and lead to jaw pain.
Influences on the Jaw from Above
If we look above the jaw the area becomes even more complex, all of the bones in the head work as a unit so if one moves all the others will move. The bones in the head have little gaps between them called sutures that allow for this movement. So problems in one part of the skull can have a knock on effect causing jaw & ear pain or headaches, sinus problems, tinnitus etc. So any previous head trauma could over time cause jaw & ear pain.
Dentistry as a cause of Jaw & Ear Pain
First up this is not going to be criticism of dentistry. However due to the large forces that are sometimes needed to extract teeth dentistry can cause problems for the jaw. Often just having your mouth open for long periods at the dentists can cause problems, again not a criticism of dentistry just something that can happen. Anyone who has had wisdom or other teeth extracted will remember the event so can understand how that could strain the jaw structures. So what about just having your mouth open. Well if you do this now for more than a minute (& don’t if you have jaw pain already) then it will feel uncomfortable. Do this for a lot longer and the jaw ligaments will often spasm, this contraction will draw the mandible up on that side often & it can stay that way for months & years & cause problems for the jaw.
This article is getting long so I will write a separate one on ear pain, so here I will just say that the ear bone, “the temporal” is so closely linked to the jaw, that any jaw issue can cause ear pain.
Treatment For Jaw & Ear Pain
If after reading this article you think the jaw & ear pain is coming from muscle, bones or ligaments then hands on treatment can be very effective at resolving the pain. There is a branch of osteopathy called ‘Cranial” that works very well for jaw & ear issues as it specializes in the treatment of the cranial bones & the face. Treatment is gentle, as you would expect, as the face & cranial bones are delicate structures.
A cranial osteopath will first identify the tissues that are causing the problem. This maybe ligaments, muscles, or the alignment of the bones or all of these. Then with their hands they will use gentle pressure to release or move the problem tissues in order to correct the anatomy that is out of balance. This may include work on the skull bones or work on neck muscles & ligaments. It may also include specialized releases within the mouth. For these techniques the practitioner will first put on a latex or synthetic glove & then place one finger alongside the back of your teeth in order to press on & release the ligaments & muscles around the inside of the jaw. It is an extremely effective way to treat jaw problems. The pressure used should be gentle and not cause pain.
All cranial osteopaths need first to be registered osteopaths (4 or 5 year university training) & then they can choose to undergo further post graduate training in this area. Training includes courses such as the SCTF ‘Face’ course which is a 5 day course which concentrates purely on the treatment of the face & the jaw. If you would like more information on the SCTF click here
If you would like more information on this topic
Article Title : Jaw & Ear Pain
Author : Dr Jonathan Evans
About the author : Dr Evans is a registered osteopath with post graduate training in cranial osteopathy. He is a faculty member of the SCTF – which is the largest worldwide foundation for the post graduate training of cranial osteopaths. As such he has taught on cranial courses including the 5 day Face course. He practices in Tweed Heads, Gold Coast, Australia.
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