Up to Your Ears in Toothache: How Dying Tooth Nerves Cause Ear Pain

Dentist Blog

Inside every tooth is a spongy mass of nerves and blood vessels. Dentists refer to this tissue mass as the dental 'pulp'. As long as the outer layers of dentin and enamel protect the pulp, you rarely ever notice its presence. Occasionally, you may experience reversible pulpitis, which is a short, sharp pain brought on by hot and cold temperatures.

However, when a tooth suffers damage, for instance, due to tooth decay, you might eventually suffer from irreversible pulpitis. This is when the pain becomes constant. The pulp inside the tooth is dying and will soon become necrotic. Interestingly, the pain isn't always local. You may feel pain in other places, such as in other teeth or even your ears.

Why Pulpitis Hurts Your Ears

Sometimes, without a physical examination by a dentist, identifying the affected tooth can prove difficult. This is due to a phenomenon that medical practitioners call "referred pain." In other words, pain that is felt somewhere other than the place it originates from. You may also know which tooth is causing you pain, but be confused because you also feel ear pain.

This ear pain is known as "secondary otalgia" (secondary ear pain). The reason that an infected pulp causes you to experience ear pain is because the regions of your head, including your eyes, mouth and ears all share the same nerve. Doctors refer to this nerve as the "trigeminal nerve". The trigeminal nerve controls sensation in your face.

Molars Refer Pain to the Ears

The teeth that most commonly refer pain to your ears are the first and second molars, especially those situated in your lower jaw (mandibular). You may also experience pain around your jaw joints.

Many patients mistakenly assume that they have an ear infection, or, a toothache and an ear infection. However, if you are experiencing other symptoms of pulpitis, such as pain localized to one tooth when biting down and reaction to temperatures, the pain is secondary otalgia.

You May Need Root Canal Therapy

First, you'll need a dentist to examine your teeth in order to confirm that the cause of your pain is pulpitis. Once they have identified the location, the best course of action is root canal therapy. During a root canal, an endodontist removes the infected or necrotic pulp, cleans out the tooth canals and then restores the tooth with a crown (in most cases).

Root canal therapy removes the infection, stopping the pain and strengthening the tooth so that you can go on using it. However, don't wait too long. If an abscess forms, the infection could spread to the surrounding bone tissue, causing swelling, pain and bone loss.


11 June 2018

Dental Care and Seniors: Helping to Maintain Your Smile

As you age, it can become harder to take care of your teeth. Motor challenges can make it hard to floss, while memory issues may make it easy to overlook brushing. Whether you are a senior looking for solutions to some of the common dental problems or a senior with specific questions about cavities or oral surgery, you have come to the right place. In this blog, I am going to touch on a range of topics related to seniors and oral health. This is the type of resource I wish my mum would have had access to in her senior years, and I hope you enjoy having access to it during yours. I appreciate you reading my posts.