Ear pain can come from a long list of conditions, but if your ears only hurt when you eat, the list of causes narrows considerably. If you go about your day or sleep at night without feeling pain in your ears, two scenarios are likely to be the cause. Both involve the mechanical movement of eating and neither has to do with your ears.
The temporomandibular joint acts as a hinge where the upper and lower jaw meet at the temporal bone. It controls the biting motion. The TMJ also enables you to make a lateral movement for crushing your food. Both mechanics become necessary for you to chew. Disorders of the TMJ can stem from bruxism -- teeth grinding, usually while you sleep. Another cause of TMJ results from the dislocation of the joint. If you have arthritis in the joint, the bones may fuse together, making it difficult and painful for you to chew. If the fusion becomes total, you would lose mobility of the jaw.
TMJ Diagnosis and Treatment
A common symptom of TMJ disorder is ear pain. You sense the pain in the ear because of its proximity to the TMJ. The actual pain emanates from your TMJ, but it radiates to your ears. You may experience a clicking of the TMJ with up-and-down or side-to-side movement. Your jaw may ache or give you shooting pains with movements apart from chewing, such as talking or yawning. Treatment ranges from conservative use of anti-inflammatories to surgery. See your dentist to rule out dental decay and gum disease before treating a TMJ disorder.
Many people do it and don't even know it. Bruxism stems from the day's stressors. Often, a dentist will point it out to you when examining your teeth. Your teeth have wear and tear that presents as smooth-surfaced molars and blunted incisors. Like stretching, the act of bruxism brings a sense of relaxation. For some people, this becomes a way of making the transition from a stressful day to restorative sleep.
Bruxism Diagnosis and Treatment
If you experience anxiety, stress or depression on a daily basis, become aware of other symptoms of bruxism. These include a sore jaw, ear pain, headaches, insomnia, sensitivity to hot, cold or sugar in your teeth, and anorexia. To treat this common condition, avoid stress when possible, use heat or ice to relieve jaw pain, avoid hard foods, make a habit of relaxing your facial muscles, massage your neck and shoulders to release tension in those muscles and try doing daily relaxation exercises. Your dentist may supply you with a mouth guard that prevents your teeth from making contact while you sleep. There are also a variety of splints that keep your upper and lower teeth apart.