What to do if your ear hurts when you bite down

Ear Hurts When I Bite Down (TMJ Dysfunction)

If your ear hurts every time you bite down, it may be because you are feeling referred pain from your jaw. Referred pain is pain felt in one part of the body while originating in a completely different body part. One study found that dysfunction in the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) or jaw joint can easily be the origin point for the pain you feel in your ear when biting down. TMJ dysfunction refers to a group of conditions that inflame and tighten the jaw joint, and it affects at least 10 million people

Why is TMJ dysfunction causing you ear pain?

The muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments surrounding your jaw joint work together to move your jaw in multiple directions while eating and talking. However, if you frequently overstretch your jaw or grind your teeth, your jaw can become inflamed, stiff and painful. Because the TMJ is near the auditory canal, inflammation in your jaw can affect the muscles behind your ear and trigger pain there. 

What are some other TMJ dysfunction symptoms?

In addition to ear pain, TMJ dysfunction may also cause

  • Chronic headaches.
  • Pain in your neck and shoulders.
  • Limited mobility or locking of your jaw.
  • Grating in your jaw joint when opening or closing your mouth.
  • A “popping” sound when moving your jaw. 
  • A ringing sound in your ear (tinnitus).

Of course, TMJ pain may not be the only reason behind your ear pain when you bite down. Conditions like osteoarthritis involve the degradation of your connective tissue. As a result, your jaw bones can rub together and cause pain traced to your ear. 

How can you treat your ear pain when biting down? 

Ear pain when biting down may limit your ability to chew food comfortably and properly. To help, you can try the following at-home treatments: 

  • Hot and cold therapy. 
  • Compression. 
  • Strengthening exercises. 
  • Stretches. 

It is a good idea to consult with a medical professional before trying at-home treatments. A specialist like a physical therapist can help you identify the source of your ear and jaw pain and teach you how to safely perform exercises and stretches to limit your TMJ pain flare-ups. In particular, physical therapists can treat your TMJ pain using two specific TMJ exercises, including the relaxed jaw exercise and resisted mouth opening exercise.

How to perform the relaxed jaw exercise

One reason your ear and TMJ might hurt when you bite down is overly tense jaw muscles. Physical therapists can show you exercises to reduce tension in these muscles, which may include the relaxed jaw exercise. 

To do the relaxed jaw exercise, follow these steps: 

  1. Sit in a stable chair with good posture. Make sure your ears are centered over your shoulders. 
  2. Place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth, just behind your front teeth. 
  3. Slowly relax your jaw muscles and allow your mouth to fall open. Keep your tongue on the roof of your mouth as it opens.
  4. Hold this stretch for 10 to 15 seconds. 
  5. Return your jaw to its starting position.
  6. Repeat these steps up to five times. 

How to perform the resisted mouth opening exercise

Your TMJ and ear may hurt when you bite down because of weak jaw muscles. Physical therapy specialists can help you learn exercises that strengthen these muscles. One of those exercises may be the resisted mouth opening exercise.

To do the resisted mouth opening exercise, follow these steps: 

  1. Sit down in a stable chair while sitting up straight and keeping your spine in a neutral position. 
  2. With your mouth closed, move the tip of your tongue so that it’s resting on the roof of your mouth behind your upper front teeth. 
  3. Place one thumb on your chin.
  4. Use this thumb to gently press upward as you open your mouth. Keep your tongue on the roof of your mouth as you do this. 
  5. Close your mouth. 
  6. Repeat these steps until you’ve done up to 10 repetitions.

Advent Physical Therapy can help treat TMJ dysfunction

Are your ear and TMJ hurting when you bite down? Advent Physical Therapy can help you treat the TMJ dysfunction that could be the root cause of your pain. We’ll start your treatment process by having you come into one of our clinics for a free screening. Then our team will build you an individualized treatment plan designed to reduce the pain in your TMJ and the referred pain in your ear.

Don’t wait to start getting our help with TMJ dysfunction. Contact our team today for more information about how we can help or to schedule your free screening.