Adults experiencing ear pain are common among a variety of doctor, dentist, and specialist offices in any given year. The discomfort that comes with pain around the ear can be significant, leaving some patients debilitated and unsure about the underlying issue causing the pain. While most ear pain clears on its own after a relatively short period of time, some may experience ongoing achiness that simply does not subside. It is important to understand that ear pain is not always linked to a problem with the ear itself, but can instead be connected to a dental issue. Knowing the most common dental problems that ultimately affect the ear is a necessary component of proper, timely diagnosis and the recommended course of treatment to follow.
Dental issues that cause ear pain come in a variety of forms, but the most common include the following:
Acute apical abscess: when patients experience an acute apical abscess, the tip of the tooth’s root becomes inflamed. This is most often caused by a long-standing infection of the tooth, and it can lead to swelling and fever. Individuals with acute apical abscess may have experienced trauma to the tooth, a fracture, an untreated cavity, or a failed dental restoration. When the infection travels to the jaw, the nervous system may send pain signals to the area around the ears.
TMJ: TMJ, defined as temporo-mandibular joint, is the hinge that connects the jaw to the temporal bones of the skull, allowing the jaw to move from side to side and up and down. Because these bones are in front of the ears, it is common for disorders of the TMJ to cause pain and discomfort around the ears. Several dental problems can cause a disorder with the TMJ, including ongoing grinding or clenching of the teeth, arthritis in the joint, or stress from a dental procedure or injury. Pain that begins in the jaw due to TMJ disorders often travels to the ears, leading to what some misdiagnosis as an ear infection or other ear-related illness.
Trigeminal Neuralgia: sudden, severe facial pain is known as trigeminal neuralgia, and it affects the jaw, teeth or gums in most patients. The pain only lasts for a few moments and then quickly subsides, but it can continue for several days, weeks, or months. Even though the pain is typically located in the jaw, the nervous system may transport pain signals to areas around the ears. The condition is caused by compression of the trigeminal nerve, due to a blood vessel pressing on part of the nerve within the skull.
Sinusitis: Although not always linked to a dental issue, sinusitis or a sinus infection can create ear pain for some patients. Sinusitis occurs when the fluid found in the sinuses become infected or inflamed. This places pressure on or beneath the cheek bones that can then travel to the ears.
Myalgia: Jaw muscles that are sore, most often referred to as myalgia, may also create pain in the ears. This discomfort is most often caused by stress to the jaw or mouth due to injury or overexertion from a dental procedure.
The Potential for Misdiagnosis
Ear pain can be difficult to diagnose because of its many causes. A solicitor from a medical negligence firm that manages ear, nose, and throat cases explains that the potential for misdiagnosis is high because of how the human nervous system works. Pain that is caused by a dental issue, like a tooth infection, for instance, can quickly travel through nerve signals to the area around the ear. A patient may be misdiagnosed with a jaw issue or an ear infection, leading to treatments that may be unnecessary. In the most serious cases of ear pain misdiagnosis, individuals may be severely delayed in receiving treatment for the dental issue causing the pain, leaving them with added or ongoing medical issues that can be hard to rectify.
When ear pain is correctly diagnosed as a symptom of a greater dental issue, timely treatment either by a dental professional or an ear, nose, and throat specialist can be performed. Understanding what causes ear pain and the underlying connection between this discomfort and seemingly unrelated injuries or illnesses is the first step in giving patients the course of treatment most suitable for a quick recovery.