Pain in the ear while chewing suggests a disorder of the temporomandibular joint. In the medical world, problems with the jaw and muscles of the face that involve this joint are referred to as temporomandibular disorders (TMDs). In lay terms, the condition is often called TMJ.
The temporomandibular joint connects the jaw to the temporal bones of the skull, which are in front of each ear. A major nerve is near the jawbone, and when it’s irritated, the pain can radiate back to the ear.
Conditions that can lead to a TMD include recent dental work, arthritis that has reduced the cartilage around the jaw joint, and teeth grinding/clenching. Stress, which makes some people grind and clench their teeth and/or tighten facial muscles, is a common cause of a TMD. A December 2020 American Dental Association poll showed that incidences of teeth grinding and clenching increased by 71 percent in the early days of the pandemic. Jaw pain jumped by 62 percent.
Resting the jaw, reducing stress, and taking a short course of antiinflammatory medications can help resolve TMD pain. Dentists treat TMDs with custom bite guards. It’s important to address this issue because grinding and clenching place excessive force upon the teeth and can lead to cracks, fractures, and even broken teeth. Dentists reported more of those incidences during the pandemic as well.
Another reason for ear pain while chewing could be from a swollen and/or infected ear canal. See your physician if the pain is frequent, doesn’t subside in a few days, or gets worse.