The Connection Between Ear Infections and Oral Health

Clinical Content Reviewed by Dr. Jay Khorsandi, DDS
Last Modified:

Table of Contents

  1. Ears, Teeth and Jaw Connection
  2. Symptoms a Tooth Infection is Spreading
  3. Link Between Oral Health & Hearing Loss
  4. When to See a Doctor
  5. Frequently Asked Questions
  6. References

Ear infections, especially ones in the inner ear, rarely originate because of issues with oral health. However, it’s possible that tissues around the ear, such as the jaw and face, get affected.

In addition, pain resulting from a problematic tooth can spread to the ear and, without treatment, cause hearing loss.

And a troublesome ear can cause pain in the mouth without infection spreading.

The Connections Between Ears, Teeth and Jaw

Issues with the temporomandibular joint affect the ears and jaw because it is a connection point between the ears and jaw. It ties the skull to the lower jaw, located next to the ear.

Disorders in this region often result in ear pain and hearing loss. In such cases, pain in the ear indicates a dental problem.

Can Poor Oral Health Affect the Ears?

Pain in the ear can indicate a problematic tooth. Dental problems that cause earaches include an abscessed tooth, cavity and an impacted molar or wisdom tooth.

Any issue with the jaw, especially in the temporomandibular joint, such as arthritis, can cause tightness and pain in your ears.

You can also experience earaches and tinnitus because of teeth grinding. Studies on the relationship between oral hygiene and the middle ear show that poor oral health rarely affects the ears.

Symptoms a Tooth Infection Is Spreading to the Body

The first sign that you have a tooth infection is the presence of a toothache. It requires attention beyond pain relief to prevent spreading.

Pain relief medications take care of discomfort for a short period, but they do not clear an infection. If you have an infection in a tooth, you will need antibiotics to slow down and half the infection.

This is serious: A tooth infection that spreads to the body can be lethal.

Ruptured Abscess

Aa ruptured abscess is an initial sign that the infection is already spreading. The result of a spreading tooth infection is sepsis, a life-threatening infection that can be difficult to control, even in hospital setting.

Look for any of the following symptoms:

  • Fever. Check for temperatures above 101 degrees, which indicate that sepsis is setting in.

  • Chills, shivers, and even a drop of body temperature to below 96.8 degrees may accompany an infection.

  • Elevated pulse and breathing rate accompanied by lightheadedness.

  • Dehydration often indicated by darker urine and confusion.

  • Stomach pain with diarrhea and vomiting.

  • Headache and fatigue.

Link Between Oral Health and Hearing Loss

Bacteria from an oral infection can enter the bloodstream and reach tissues in the inner ear. This occurrence deprives stereocilia of blood, which prevents hair cells from regenerating, leading to hearing loss.

Poor oral health can therefore play a role in causing hearing loss.

Oral Health & Ear Infection Symptoms

Proper oral health is essential for ensuring good overall health. Brushing and flossing can help prevent problems with teeth and gums.

But studies show no conclusive relationship between oral health and ear infections.

Ear Infection Diagnosis

Diagnosis of an ear infection can take various approaches. One of those approaches is an ear exam using an otoscope where the doctor looks for signs of inflammation and soreness.

Additionally, your doctor will look for fluid in the middle ear using a pneumatic otoscope. Another essential test is tympanometry which uses pressure to check for fluid in the middle ear.

Ear Infection Treatment

The kind of treatment your doctor recommends for an ear infection depends on factors: your age and severity of your infection.

A health care provider might opt for a wait-and-see approach to see if the infection clears without intervention. If it fails to clear, your doctor can choose from several forms of treatment, such as antibiotics, tympanostomy tubes and pain medication.

Antibiotics are very effective against bacteria. They come into play when an infection fails to clear on its own. Application is typically through ear drops. There are directives to evaluate the administration of antibiotics to treat ear infections.

You can use this method to treat children with chronic ear infections and antibiotics fail to take effect. It involves inserting a small plastic or metallic tube into the eardrum through a small incision. The tube drains fluid from the middle ear by letting air in.

Over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen can help manage a fever and an earache. You also have the option of pain-relieving ear drops, which usually take effect in a couple of hours.

It’s best to administer drops by following a doctor’s directive because aspirin can prove fatal to children with Reye’s syndrome.

When to See Your Doctor

If you or someone you care for develops an ear infection, a visit to the doctor is almost always in order. Specifically, visit your doctor if:

  • Symptoms persist after three days

  • You have an extreme earache

  • Ear infections are recurrent

  • There is discharge or fluid from your ear

  • You have a fever of at least 100.4 degrees

  • Other symptoms such as stiff neck and drowsiness are present

Frequently Asked Questions

The ear infection most likely to spread to the mouth is Otitis externa. Also known as the swimmer’s ear, it starts in the ear canal to the eardrum. In severe cases, the infection can spread to tissue surrounding the ears and in the face and jaw.

Dental problems like an infected upper molar can cause problems in your ears. The bacteria may spread and end up damaging the nerves close to your ear. However, it is rare for dental issues to cause infection in the inner ear. Pain resulting from dental problems may disguise itself as an ear infection.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.