New research finds that gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) can not only cause pain in the temporomandibular joint but also contribute to poor sleep and mental health. Many people are unaware of the far-reaching risk factors associated with GERD, and the study published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal) helps to show just how serious the condition can be.
Many people experience GERD or acid reflux from time to time and don’t think it’s anything more than a slight nuisance. GERD is mild acid reflux that can occur at least twice a week, or moderate to severe acid reflux that occurs at least once a week. It occurs when stomach acid flows back into the tube connecting the mouth and stomach (esophagus) This backwash (acid reflux) can irritate the lining of the esophagus, causing discomfort.
Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) affects about 13 percent of the population and is a condition that causes pain in the lower jaw. The disease affects the joint between the temporal bone and the jawbone (mandible). The nerves and muscles around the joint are also affected.
Previous Evidence of a Connection
Evidence has previously indicated that GERD has been linked to temporomandibular joint pain and mental disorders, so researchers conducted this new study to understand more about the connection.
For the study, researchers from the United States and China looked at data on 1,522 patients with chronic TMD to understand the connection to GERD, and to determine if anxiety, somatization, and depression influence the association.
They found that GERD was a risk factor TMD and that patients with a long history of GERD had an elevated risk of TMD compared to those with a shorter history.
“The interactions between chronic musculoskeletal diseases, gastrointestinal diseases, mental disorders, and sleep problems are complicated,” writes Dr. Jihua Chen of The Dental College of Georgia. “There is evidence to support the bidirectional nature of the associations among these comorbidities, and patients may be stuck in a cycle in which undermined sleep, somatization and anxiety exacerbate the pain, with the pain also leading to sleep problems and mental disorders.”
“Physicians and patients may overlook the association between chronic musculoskeletal disease and gastrointestinal symptoms,” write the authors. “Patients with both chronic TMD and reflux symptoms may be underdiagnosed, resulting in deferred effective treatment and a prolonged disease course.”
As part of the conclusion of the study, researchers suggested that physicians need to be aware of the association and consider multiple treatment options to help patients with TMD and chronic pain associated with gastroesophageal reflux (GERD).