TMJ is sometimes called “the great imposter” because it shares so many symptoms with other conditions. That’s partly because TMJ symptoms are so numerous, diverse, and widespread that it’s hard to see them as connected with each other or with your jaw joint.

One common confusion is that people with TMJ may think they just have an ear infection. Ear symptoms are common in TMJ– nearly 80% of people with TMJ report ear symptoms. But if you have symptoms of ear infection that recur, persist, or don’t respond to usual treatment, you should consider that you might have TMJ.

Ear Infections Are Uncommon with Adults

Ear infections are common in children. Most likely, a child has some form of illness, like a cold or flu, which then spreads to the middle ear. Viruses or bacteria reproduce in the middle ear, and they, along with your body’s immune response, create swelling and excess fluid that can lead to clogging of the narrow passage.

Ear infections are more common among children with poorly developed immune systems and narrow ear passages. Adults are unlikely to experience ear infections, even if they got ear infections commonly as a child.

Overlapping Symptoms

When the middle ear gets clogged, people may experience many symptoms that can be common with TMJ. People with both conditions may experience a variety of ear-related symptoms, such as:

  • Ear pain
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Sensations of ear fullness
  • Diminished hearing
  • Headaches

With all these symptoms in common, it’s not surprising that people might confuse the two conditions. Especially if you have a history of ear infections, you might jump to the conclusion that you have another ear infection.

But it’s important to look for symptoms that can distinguish between these two conditions.

Distinguishing Conditions

If you have an ear infection, you’ll know it because:

  • You are recovering from a recent illness
  • You have a fever or localized warmth in the ear
  • There’s discharge coming from your ear

If you haven’t been sick recently–or aren’t sick now–then you probably don’t have an ear infection. Fever is a dead giveaway of some kind of infection. TMJ won’t cause discharge from your ears, so that’s a definite sign of an infection. Remember: discharge may come from your outer ear or through your eustachian tubes.

But TMJ is more likely if:

  • Your doctor says you don’t have an ear infection
  • The symptoms don’t resolve on their own
  • The symptoms don’t respond to antibiotics
  • You have other TMJ symptoms like jaw sounds or tooth wear
  • Your symptoms seem to flare up after intense jaw activity

If you think you have an infection, you may not go to a doctor because viral infections tend to clear up on their own. But if symptoms persist and your doctor either clears you or gives you medication that doesn’t help,it’s time to consider that TMJ may be the cause of your ear symptoms.

This is when you should consider what other TMJ symptoms you may have. Jaw sounds, jaw pain, and tooth wear are all clear indicators that TMJ could be causing your problem. Another giveaway is that your symptoms come on when you work your jaw hard. This may be chewing a tough meal, talking a lot, talking loudly, or clenching your teeth due to stress.

If this sounds like your ear symptoms, then it’s time to talk to a TMJ dentist like Dr. Chris Hill in St. Louis. Please call (314) 678-7876 (Downtown St. Louis) or (314) 678-7876 (Clayton) today to schedule an appointment at City Smiles.