We know that the body is a complex web of interrelated functions. When you have a problem with one system, it can lead to problems elsewhere. Often, we talk about this in terms of how poor oral health can negatively impact your heart, your brain, and other systems. 

However, sometimes it goes the other way: problems elsewhere in your body can be bad for your mouth. That’s what one new study has revealed, how gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can elevate your risk of developing temporomandibular joint disorders (called TMJ or TMD). According to the study, people with GERD are almost three times more likely to develop TMJ, which can be very bad news for your teeth. 

Man with GERD, suffering from acid reflux. Like GERD, TMJ can lead to significant wear and cracking to your teeth.

Linking GERD to TMJ

For this study, researchers in China looked at 1522 adult patients who came in for treatment of chronic TMJ. They then matched these TMJ patients with an equal number of controls who didn’t have TMJ, but were otherwise matched in age, gender, and overall general health. All patients ranged in age from 18 to 70, and were recruited from July 2017 to April 2018. Doctors blinded to the purpose of the study diagnosed GERD in patients, and all patients answered questions about their sleep patterns and psychological factors. 

They found that people with GERD were 2.74 times more likely to have TMJ. In trying to determine the mechanism for the connection, researchers found that anxiety and poor sleep might mediate the two conditions. 

This makes sense, since both anxiety and sleep problems can encourage bruxism (teeth clenching and grinding), which not only stresses your teeth, it can stress jaw muscles and damage the jaw joint, resulting in jaw pain and dysfunction. 

A Very Bad Combination for Your Teeth

Although this is a single study, if the relationship discovered here holds up, it can be very bad news for your teeth. Both GERD and TMJ are bad for your teeth, and in combination each can exacerbate the impact of the other. 

TMJ can lead to significant wear and cracking of your teeth. GERD can lead to acid in your mouth, which attacks the tooth enamel, making it thinner and softer. This makes your teeth more prone to cracking and erosion. 

Unlike acidic foods and drinks, GERD causes the most damage to teeth in the back of your mouth. These back teeth experience the worst stress during bruxism, and the attack by stomach acids can undermine their strength, causing your bite to collapse, which could require extensive bite reconstruction

Early Diagnosis and Treatment Can Save Your Teeth

Based on this study, if you’ve been diagnosed with GERD, you should examine your risk for TMJ. If you experience symptoms of TMJ, like jaw popping or clicking, tooth wear, irregular jaw motion, jaw pain, or others, it’s time to seek professional care. 

By diagnosing and treating your TMJ, we can head off major tooth damage and help you avoid the need for bite reconstruction. For help preserving or restoring your beautiful smile in St. Louis, please call (314) 375-5353 today for an appointment with neuromuscular dentist Dr. Chris Hill at City Smiles.