Ear pain can be the cause of a long list of conditions, but if you experience ear pain when chewing food, it could indicate a swollen ear canal or may even be a symptom of a dental problem.
An annoying, sharp ear pain can become a nuisance. If the pain occurs while chewing food, it can discourage people from eating throughout the day.
Let’s take a further look at the causes and treatments to give you a more clear idea of this condition.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMD) and Ear Pain
Many adults experience ear pain as a result of a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is located close to the ear canal—it acts as a hinge where the lower and upper jaws meet. This joint controls the chewing/biting motion when eating food.
People with TMD often have at least one predisposing factor (e.g. their molar teeth don’t fit together very well). When the teeth don’t fit together, biting can cause stress on the jaw joint due to the uneven pressure being applied to the joint spaces.
Dentists don’t know exactly what causes TMD, but it could arise from problems with the jaw muscles, an injury to the jaw or joint, whiplash or even bruxism (grinding or clenching the teeth), arthritis, or stress.
Pain in the TMJ can also be brought on by dental procedures, resulting in ear pain when chewing. During a root canal or gum cleaning procedure for example, the temporomandibular joint experiences constant stress because the mouth is held open for a long period of time. This can result in a variety of symptoms, including swelling and pain in or around the ear while chewing, biting, speaking, or opening your mouth wide.
Further symptoms of TMD include:
- The jaw getting stuck in an open or closed position
- Clicking or popping sounds in the jaw when you open and close your mouth
- Trouble chewing or biting—it may feel that your teeth don’t properly fit together
- Facial swelling
Other Causes of Ear Pain When Chewing
- Middle ear infections: The middle of the ear is a small area found near the eardrum. The ossicles are three bones found in the middle ear—they are among the smallest bones in the body. Ossicles send waves from the eardrum to the inner ear. Consequently, middle ear infections can result in pain while eating/chewing.
- Jaw problems: If your jaw becomes inflamed, it can be one of the reasons behind the pain in the ear when you are chewing. In most cases, poor hygiene or jaw injuries are responsible for the swelling in the jaw.
- Ear canal infection: The ear canal is the tube that starts from the outer ear and ends at the eardrum. An infection that is caused by bacteria, usually from scratching the ear frequently with the nails, can cause ear discomfort when eating.
Easy Ways to Treat Pain in the Ear/Ear When Chewing
Painkillers, antibiotics, ear drops, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (i.e. ibuprofen) can all help reduce pain in the ear while chewing, but there are a few natural things you can do to improve discomfort as well—most specifically a change in diet. Avoid eating food products that require a lot of chewing. Opt for soft foods, such as dairy products, tofu, fruits (e.g. ripe bananas), and well-cooked ground meat.
Since the most common cause of ear pain in adults comes from TMD, here are a few measures you can take to resolve flare-ups:
- Apply an ice pack to the side of your face that is in pain and leave it on for about 10 minutes. After you remove the ice pack, perform a few simple jaw stretches. Afterward, hold a warm towel to the area for five minutes. Repeat a few times daily.
- Keep yawning and gum-chewing to a minimum; don’t yell or sing and avoid anything that requires you to open your mouth wide.
- Avoid resting your chin on your hand.
- Try not to hold your phone between your shoulder and ear, as it puts unnecessary pressure on the jaw.
- If you clench or grind your teeth during the day, stick your tongue between them to avoid doing it. Use a mouth guard at night to prevent involuntary teeth grinding.
Sources for Today’s Article:
“Do You Have an Ear Infection Or Is It Really TMJ?” Berger Henry web site; http://www.bergerhenryent.com/news-do-you-have-an-ear-infection-or-is-it-really-tmj.php, last accessed September 23, 2015.
“Pain in the Ear When Chewing,” Buzzle.com, last updated October 1, 2012; http://www.buzzle.com/articles/pain-in-ear-when-chewing.html, last accessed September 23, 2015.
Ruvolo-Wilkes, V., “My Ears Hurt When Eating,” Livestrong.com, August 16, 2013; http://www.livestrong.com/article/462520-my-ears-hurt-when-eating/.
“Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMD, TMJ),” WebMD web site; http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/temporomandibular-disorders-tmd, last accessed September 23, 2015.