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Can gastroesophageal reflux cause pain from TMD?

A research study determined the correlation between gastroesophageal reflux and pain from temporomandibular disorder.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a medical condition involving the flow of stomach acid up into the esophagus. Although it is a common temporary occurrence for most individuals, repeated gastroesophageal reflux can have a negative impact on the esophageal lining. Temporomandibular disorder (TMD) is characterized by pain in the joint and muscles that regulate movement of the jaw. An American and Chinese research study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal investigated the association between gastroesophageal reflux and temporomandibular joint pain, along with other influencing factors including depression and anxiety.

The study collected data from 1522 TMD patients. The patients ranged from 18 to 70 years old and majority were women. Temporomandibular disorder was diagnosed according to the Orofacial Pain Prospective Evaluation and Risk Assessment Study, while gastroesophageal reflux was determined based on occurrences of two days of mild symptoms per week or one day of severe symptoms per week. Anxiety and depression states were recorded using a questionnaire. Statistical analyses were carried out to determine gastroesophageal reflux as a risk factor for temporomandibular joint pain.

The results of the study suggested that there was a correlation between gastroesophageal reflux and TMD. Individuals with a smaller history of gastroesophageal reflux were at a lower risk of temporomandibular joint pain as opposed to those with a more persistent history of gastroesophageal reflux. The study also revealed that poor sleep and mental health influenced this association, although the authors recognize that these influencing factors may be bidirectional, potentially resulting in a reverse causation.

The authors recognize that treatments and therapy for TMD require a multidisciplinary approach. There may also be other influential factors that affect this correlation and although the study was able to identify an association, it was not significant enough to prove causation, claim the authors. The researchers emphasize that it is important to better comprehend the correlation between gastrointestinal conditions and musculoskeletal pain.


Written by Shrishti Ahuja, BSc



Gastroesophageal reflux associated with chronic pain in temporomandibular joint. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2019-08/ji-gra081319.php.

Li, Y., Fang, M., Niu, L., Fan, Y., Liu, Y., Long, Y., … Chen, J. (2019). Associations among gastroesophageal reflux disease, mental disorders, sleep and chronic temporomandibular disorder: a case–control study. Canadian Medical Association Journal. doi: https://doi.org/10.1503/cmaj.181535



Shrishti Ahuja BSc
Shrishti Ahuja BSc
Shrishti is currently working towards her HBSc degree in Medical Science and English Literature from Western University. She enjoys taking on challenging opportunities that allow her to communicate complex scientific concepts to a variety of audiences. Along with the Medical News Bulletin, she is actively involved in the orientation program at her university, is part of a dance team, and enjoys travelling.


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