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Ear infections are very common in children. It is estimated that at age 5, majority of children will have had at least one episode of ear infection. However, is it possible for this problem to be related to other parts of the head, such as the teeth and gums?
Are Ears Connected to the Mouth?
The answer is yes! In an embryo, the ears and jaws form as a single unit. As the fetus develops, they separate from each other to develop their respective organs. However, because of the closeness of the ears and jaws, the nerves that are responsible for neurotransmission in both organs may be on the same path. This means that pain in one ear can present as pain in the jaw and vice versa.
Dental Health and Ear Infections in Infants
Babies are at risk of ear infections because of their weaker immune systems. However, a very common condition that can be mistaken for ear infections is teething. It can be difficult to decipher whether an infant has ear infection or is teething because of the similar symptoms like fussiness, unexplainable crying and fever. The best way to spot what is causing your baby’s discomfort is by reading the signs.
The signs of ear infections are:
- Touching or patting the area around the ear
- Ear discharge
- High fever
- Difficulty sleeping at night
The signs of teething are:
- Low fever that does not exceed 101℉
- Constant crying
- Lack of appetite
- Tenderness in the gums
- A white bump on the gum surface
If an infant is not showing any signs of teething but experiencing the said symptoms, it’s best to visit a pediatrician to know what the root of the problem is.
Dental Health and Ear Infections in Children
Since children are the most susceptible to ear infections, parents should be aware of the signs and seek medical attention right away. Kids can pinpoint the location of the pain, but sometimes they can mistake ear pain for jaw and tooth pains. Parents may assume that it is tooth pain because children are also at high risk of tooth decay. Observe the symptoms closely to see what kind of problem is causing the pain.
It has also been found that in preschool-aged children, chewing xylitol gum can reduce ear infections. The possible explanation was that xylitol can inhibit bacterial growth in the mouth. The mouth, ears, and nose are connected anatomically, making the effect spread throughout parts of the head.
Dental Health and Ear Infections in Adults
In adults, it may not easy to distinguish ear infections and toothache from each other because of the similar nerve line. Here are some ways that ear infections can be related to dental health.
- Infection can spread from the gums to other parts of the head. It’s a fact that gum disease and oral infections can also affect other parts of the body. Researchers have found that patients with periodontal disease have a higher risk of getting diabetes and heart disease. The same may be applied to the ears. Some bacteria may not be strong enough to reach the heart but it can easily reach the ears, causing an ear infection.
- Bad bite and malocclusions can cause ear pain. If you have poor teeth alignment, this can cause pain in your ears which can be misdiagnosed as ear infection. The jaw muscles responsible for chewing motion are very close to the opening of the ears. When these muscles get sore from keeping your bite normal, the ears can also become painful and sore.
- TMJ disorders can be mistaken for ear infections. The jaw joints are directly in front of the ear opening, so it can be easy to understand why some patients may assume that they have ear infections when in fact, they have TMJ disorder.
- Pain from an ear infection can be associated with tooth pains. Because of the single nerve line between the teeth and ears, an ear infection can radiate its pain to the teeth and gums. Some patients may think that what’s causing their pain is tooth decay, when it’s actually an ear infection.
To identify the root cause of pain around the mouth and jaws, it’s best to visit Stetson Hills Dental Clinic for an examination. Our dental team will be able to quickly spot if it’s a dental problem or an ear-related infection. A proper diagnosis is the path towards correct treatment. If you continue to self-medicate or mistake an ear infection for toothache, the problem may worsen and become more difficult to cure in the future.