Bruxism and acid reflux (GERD): are they interlinked ?

A male suffers from acid reflux causing discomfort. Acid reflux exaggerates erosive effect of bruxism. Thus, bruxism and acid reflux are complimentary in action.
Acid reflux exaggerates erosive effect of bruxism.

The relationship between bruxism and acid reflux is ambiguous. However, it is proven that bruxism and acid reflux are complimentary in action.

Today, in this blog we answer the following frequently asked questions :

What is acid reflux (GERD) ?

When food enters our stomach, digestive juice (gastric juice) is released. This juice is acidic in nature. It is prevented from entering our oesophagus (food pipe) by the closure of a sphincter (circular muscles).

When this sphincter does not close properly, acidic digestive juice enters into our foodpipe and can reach into our mouths. This condition is termed GERD (Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Disease) medically and acid reflux in layman terms.

People describe it as a heartburn and experience sour taste in their mouths. Some may even experience hoarseness of voice.

Diagram showing mechanism of GERD. Failure of sphincter causes gastric acid to enter our food pipe and up into our mouth.
Failure of sphincter causes acid reflux: left the normal situation, right in case of GERD.

How can GERD cause bruxism ?

There are a few scientific studies which show that when acidic gastric juice enters our mouth, it causes muscles to contract, which leads to teeth grinding. However, such studies are sparse, so, GERD causing bruxism is still debatable.

Nonetheless, what we know for sure is that GERD increases tooth erosion when it co-exists with bruxism. This happens because the acidic gastric juices also erode teeth.

How to distinguish teeth damage caused by GERD and bruxism ?

Your dentist can distinguish between tooth erosion caused by GERD and bruxism.

  • GERD usually leads to erosion of molars and on the surfaces of teeth facing your tongue (lingual surfaces). The front teeth are generally not impacted.
  • Bruxism causes erosion on all teeth and affects the biting surfaces (occlusal surfaces) more.

Furthermore, acid reflux causes minute craters to form on teeth, whereas bruxism completely flattens the tooth surface.

What to do if you have both, bruxism and acid reflux ?

The combination of GERD and bruxism is alarming. The negative impact on your dentition becomes twofold.

A girl experiences severe heartburn following acidic reflux. Avoid acidic foods to get relief from GERD.
Avoid acidic foods to get relief from GERD.

Acid reflux is treated by suppressing gastric acid formation. For this, drugs of the proton pump inhibitor class or histamine receptor blockers are used. Your primary health care provider or dentist may prescribe this for you.

Bruxism is treated as per the underlying condition that causes it. Night guards to prevent further damage to the dentition along with muscle relaxant medicine may be prescribed by your dentist.

Thus, if both conditions co-exist then both are treated simultaneously.

In any case, if you suffer from GERD, avoid acidic foods and drinks like sodas, lemonades and energy drinks.

Closing Remarks

Acid reflux may or may not cause bruxism directly, but it is a proven fact that it adds to the damage caused by bruxism. So if you grind your teeth and experience heartburn, you need to tell your primary health care provider or dentist at the earliest.

Remember ! The damage caused is irreversible. The more you wait, the more damage occurs and treatment options become more complex and expensive.

References :

Li Y, Yu F, Niu L, Hu W, Long Y, Tay FR, Chen J. Associations among Bruxism, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, and Tooth Wear. J Clin Med. 2018 Nov 6;7(11):417. doi: 10.3390/jcm7110417. PMID: 30404150; PMCID: PMC6262381.

Published by StephyK

Dentist with years of experience in private dental hospitals.