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Ear pain is something that the layman does not usually associate with dental pain, however they would be surprised to know that there are multiple reasons why such a thing could occur. ENT surgeons often refer patients to dentists when they are unable to locate the origin of a persistent earache.
The Temperomandibular Joint (TMJ), in particular, is in close anatomic proximity to the ear. In fact, their embryonic development happens at the same time. A simple exercise to get an idea of how close they are to each other is to insert a finger in each of the ear and then open/close the mouth. You will be able to feel the joint move.
The teeth themselves can also be responsible for an earache, as it is not uncommon to feel referred pain from the teeth in the head and neck region. The exact origin of tooth pain can be notoriously difficult to pinpoint for a patient, so they can seek out medical attention before they seek out the opinion of a dentist.
Our wisdom teeth or our third molars are evolutionary remnants from a time when humans used to eat raw unprocessed food in the wild. Our jaw sizes used to be much bigger as well. However, over the course of thousands of years, there have been changes to our diet and our jaw sizes have reduced in size correspondingly.
This is the reason that our wisdom teeth, which are last to erupt in our oral cavity, often do not find the proper space to erupt completely and become stuck in uncomfortable positions. The result is a chronic trauma to the inside of the cheek, pain and inflammation.
This pain is often referred to the ears and may be mistaken for an earache. The wisdom teeth of the upper arch are the most commonly associated with an earache, however the malaligned wisdom teeth of the lower arch can also be responsible for the same.
Temperomanibular Joint (TMJ) Disorder
The TMJ is an extremely sensitive joint since a number of muscles, ligaments and cartilages work in conjunction with each other. Some symptoms like pain on speaking for too long or after chewing food can point towards a muscular weakness. Clicking on opening the mouth or even dislocation of the jaw, in which the patient is unable to close the mouth on their own are signs that something is not quite right with the joint functioning.
As the joint starts to undergo more stresses than it has been built to withstand, the nerves which innervate the joint can get irritated by the inflammation and injury in the joint. This can result in pain being transmitted to the ear.
Returning the joint back to harmonious function is not an easy task and requires surgical, maxillofacial and occlusal correction. An infection from the joint can also easily spread to the nearby ear resulting in a secondary infection to the ear.