What causes my ear/tooth ache?
October 25, 2010 4:15 PM   Subscribe

My right ear aches, and pain moves from one tooth to another on the right side of my mouth. I have a doctor's appointment tomorrow afternoon, but in the meantime I thought I'd ask what might be causing this. The pain in my ear is reminiscent of an ear infection I had years ago. At the same time, a single tooth will ache, but an hour later, the pain moves to a different tooth! Is it a dental problem causing an ear ache or an ear ache causing a dental problem?
posted by jackypaper to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It could be a tooth problem, an ear problem or a sinus problem; it could even be a throat problem. That's the trouble with that area; pain can be referred from one spot to another. My money is on congested sinuses, since nearly everyone I know is suffering from sinus trouble right now, but your doctor will be able to tell for sure.
posted by infinitywaltz at 4:18 PM on October 25, 2010

Response by poster: Yeppers, I've been known to struggle with Old Man Sinus before, so that could very well be the problem.
posted by jackypaper at 4:26 PM on October 25, 2010

IANAD/IANYD, but yeah, my money would be either on an ear infection (maybe a nasty one - spreading into your mastoid, especially if the painful tooth is on the bottom), or congested sinuses (more likely, I think, if the painful tooth is on top).
posted by honeybee413 at 4:31 PM on October 25, 2010

It could very well be referred pain from a tense jaw muscle. I had lower tooth/ear pain very much like this during a time of stress, and it turned out to be TMJ/tension-related. There's just a ton of muscles and nerves in that area, and it seems like referred pain is the norm rather than the exception.
posted by Knicke at 4:37 PM on October 25, 2010

Root canal infection. The moving from one tooth to another part is a giveaway.
posted by genghis at 4:49 PM on October 25, 2010

Every time I've had something like this an ENT fixed it (it's usually, but not always, an ear infection.) My teeth are in bizarrely OK condition, but even a mild ear infection makes my teeth hurt (like honeybee413 said, it's always the bottom teeth.)
posted by SMPA at 5:00 PM on October 25, 2010

I needed a root canal on my rearmost upper left molar once several months after an oral surgeon screwed up during a wisdom tooth extraction. My experience was similar to the "moving" pain you described and genghis associates with an infection at the root area; the minor pain would shift depending on how I bit, held the toothbrush, etc. The good news is that the root canal, follow-up and metal post implantation, and attachment of a crown took less than three hours of my time in total and were totally painless.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 5:01 PM on October 25, 2010

It is most likely an infection, like said above, but it could also be anything affecting the Trigeminal nerve. Moving pain in teeth happens with Trigeminal Neuralgia.

A good way to help with the tooth pain at least is to apply some whiskey or Orajel to the gums around the teeth that hurt.
posted by strixus at 5:06 PM on October 25, 2010

IANAD, but I'm with strixus-- specifically the posterior division of the mandibular branch of your trigeminal nerve, which has auriculotemporal branches that could carry your ear pain as well as inferior alveolar branches that could be the cause of the tooth pain (if it's in your lower jaw). If the painful teeth are in your maxilla, then it would have to be both the mandibular division (V3) and the maxillary division (V2) of the Trigeminal, which wouldn't make much sense as they come out of different holes in your skull. Can you tell I just took my anatomy practical?
posted by The White Hat at 6:09 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yup, migratory tooth pain generally means nerve issues, which means something's infected in an ear canal or sinus. If you've had sinus infections before, my guess would be that it's another one--every time you get one, it makes it that much more likely you'll have another one later on. Depending on the doctor, he may have you ride it out or may give you an antibiotic for it.

When I get infections, I find that pseudoephedrine helps a lot, for as much as two days. So, if you can find some Advil Cold & Sinus or something else behind-the-counter that will dry it out and contract the inflamed tissues, it might help until you see the doc. (Past 2 days or so, it stops working unless you keep ramping up the dose, and then the snapback is really nasty)
posted by Mayor West at 7:00 PM on October 25, 2010

This is a good time for decongestants, as they should fairly rapidly reduce pressure in your sinuses or ears.

Ear/gland/sinus pain seems like a good time for heat, but heat = expansion, cold = contraction. Cold packs (cool packs, on and off in short cycles; don't frostbite your face) on the side that hurts may give you more relief than anything else.

If none of that works even temporarily, it's most likely dental.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:31 PM on October 25, 2010

You could have some type of temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder - which would be neither an ear nor a tooth problem, but a jaw problem.

I have TMJ on my left side, and sometimes it causes my right ear to hurt. My right side overcompensates for the left and this overworks some of the jaw muscles that are right up by my right ear.
posted by thatguyjeff at 9:54 AM on October 26, 2010

« Older Stellaaaa!   |   You don't get to 500 million friends without a... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.