Is It an Ear Infection, Tooth Pain, or Something Else?

You feel a shoot­ing pain in your tooth — or wait, was that pain in your ear? Because your teeth and your ear are so close to one anoth­er, it can some­times be con­fus­ing which is caus­ing you pain. 

Ear infec­tions and toothaches are both painful, but they’re also both treat­able. To get relief, it can be help­ful to under­stand the caus­es and accom­pa­ny­ing symp­toms of these con­di­tions. Then you may be able to fig­ure out what’s caus­ing your pain and treat it accordingly. 

Here’s an overview of ear infec­tions, tooth pain, and how they are different. 

What’s the Dif­fer­ence Between Ear Infec­tions and Tooth Pain?  

The pri­ma­ry dis­tinc­tion between ear pain and tooth pain is that ear pain comes from the ear itself, while tooth pain usu­al­ly orig­i­nates from a spe­cif­ic tooth. 

Ear Infec­tions 

An ear infec­tion — also called acute oti­tis media — is an infec­tion that occurs in your mid­dle ear. This is the space between the eardrum and the inner ear. It’s filled with air as well as tiny bones that send vibra­tions from your eardrum to your inner ear, allow­ing you to hear. 

Ear infec­tions occur most­ly in chil­dren between the ages of 6 months and 2 years, and they remain com­mon until 8 years old. How­ev­er, old­er chil­dren and adults can also get ear infec­tions — and they can be just as painful. 

Virus­es and bac­te­ria can cause ear infec­tions. They usu­al­ly occur right after a cold or oth­er type of upper res­pi­ra­to­ry infec­tion, when germs make their way into your mid­dle ear. 

If you think you’re expe­ri­enc­ing an ear infec­tion, vis­it a Duly Health and Care pri­ma­ry care provider clin­ic near you for diag­no­sis and treatment. 

Tooth Pain  

Pain in your tooth — often referred to as a toothache — can occur in or around your tooth. Toothaches can range from minor to severe, some of which will go away on their own and oth­ers that will need med­ical treatment. 

Toothaches have a wide range of caus­es, includ­ing cav­i­ties, a cracked tooth, teeth grind­ing or clench­ing (called brux­ism), gum dis­ease, or a dam­aged den­tal restora­tion, such as a fill­ing or crown. 

Ear Infec­tion or Tooth Pain: Which Symp­toms Do I Have?  

Pain in and around your ear and teeth can range from minor to severe. Both ear infec­tions and tooth pain can feel any­where from slight­ly frus­trat­ing to debil­i­tat­ing enough to keep you from going about your day. 

But in order to get the right treat­ment, you’ll have to know which one you have. A key way to tell the two apart is to deter­mine where the pain is com­ing from: your mouth or your ear. But if the pain is too close to tell, there are oth­er symp­toms to look for that may give you clear­er clues: 

How Will My Doc­tor Diag­nose My Pain?  

To diag­nose an ear infec­tion, your health­care provider will ask about your symp­toms and do a phys­i­cal exam. Dur­ing the exam, they’ll check for cold symp­toms as well as an infec­tion in your ear. To view inside your ear, they’ll use an instru­ment with a light (called an oto­scope) to look for signs of an ear infec­tion, includ­ing inflam­ma­tion, red­ness, and swelling. 

As for tooth pain, diag­nos­ing the cause of your dis­com­fort may require a vis­it to the den­tist, where they’ll ask about your symp­toms and do an exam­i­na­tion of your teeth and mouth. They might also take an X‑ray to view beneath your gums. 

Are Ear Infec­tions and Tooth Pain Treat­ed Dif­fer­ent­ly?  

Most of the time, ear infec­tions don’t require treat­ment. But when they do, treat­ment usu­al­ly includes antibi­otics and over-the-counter pain med­ica­tions. Chil­dren who have recur­ring ear infec­tions may need ear tubes, which allow air into the mid­dle ear, let­ting flu­id drain more easily. 

When it comes to tooth pain, you can try at-home reme­dies first. You might try rins­ing with salt water (mix 12 tea­spoon of salt and 8 ounces of warm water) or apply­ing ice packs to the affect­ed area. If your pain doesn’t go away, you’ll need to vis­it your den­tist, who can treat your tooth pain with med­ica­tion (such as antibi­otics and pain reliev­ers), fill­ings, crowns (a cap that goes over your tooth), or oth­er den­tal treat­ments, depend­ing on the cause of the pain. 

What Else Could My Ear and Tooth Pain Be Caused By?  

If your symp­toms don’t align with an ear infec­tion or the typ­i­cal caus­es of tooth pain, it might be some­thing else caus­ing your pain. Oth­er relat­ed con­di­tions include: 

  • Sinus infec­tions, which can lead to pain in your teeth, ears, and face, among oth­er symptoms 
  • TMJ dis­or­ders, which cause pain in the jaw joint and the mus­cles that move your jaw 
  • Trigem­i­nal neu­ral­gia, which affects the trigem­i­nal nerve that sends feel­ing from your face to your brain and caus­es pain that feels like an elec­tric shock on one side of your face 
  • Vis­cer­al toothache, which is redi­rect­ed pain from the stom­ach or heart 
  • Neu­rovas­cu­lar oro­fa­cial pain, which is sim­i­lar to a migraine and can cause pres­sure and aching in the teeth

How Do I Know Where My Pain Is Com­ing From?  

If you aren’t sure what’s caus­ing your pain, talk to your Duly Health and Care pri­ma­ry care provider or go to an imme­di­ate care loca­tion for diag­no­sis and treat­ment. Not delay­ing care is cru­cial in order to pre­vent prob­lems from get­ting worse. 

No one should have to deal with ear, tooth, or any oth­er kind of dis­com­fort. With the right diag­no­sis and care, you can find relief from your pain. 

Health Topics:

  • To provide every patient with the highest quality care in a timely fashion.