GERD is short for gastroesophageal reflux disease, and although this is a condition affecting your digestive health, it can also negatively impact your teeth and gums because stomach acid flows up the digestive tract and into the mouth. Most people will occasionally experience acid reflux or heartburn, perhaps triggered by eating certain foods or by overeating. If the problem occurs at least twice a week, it might be diagnosed as GERD by your GP. It is a pervasive problem, but the symptoms can be miserable. However, for some people, the signs are so subtle or aren’t present at all. Unfortunately, even if you don’t notice anything is wrong, it can still affect your dental health and quite possibly your general health.
The strong acids flowing back the digestive tract can damage the lining of the esophagus and may cause ulcers or precancerous changes to the cells in the throat, which is a condition called Barret’s Esophagus.at the same time, the acid reflux can gradually erode your teeth and damage your gums. It’s not unusual for a dentist in Whitby to be the first person to notice the signs of GERD during a routine check-up.
How Can Acid Damage Teeth?
When stomach acid washes back up into the esophagus and the mouth, it can erode the tough outer layer of enamel which protects teeth. Usually, a healthy mouth has a pH of around 7.0 which is approximately the same as water. When pH levels reduce to 5.5 or less, tooth enamel begins to dissolve. Stomach acid has a pH level of 2.0 or even lower so it can cause substantial damage to teeth.
Unfortunately, the damage to teeth may not be immediately noticeable because GERD tends to cause damage to the inner surfaces of the upper teeth which aren’t very visible. Teeth damaged by GERD can become thinner, so the incisal or biting edge is sharper and more easily chipped. These teeth may also begin to look yellower and could feel more sensitive than usual because the loss of tooth enamel exposes the dentin underneath. Dentin consists of hollow tubules so the sensations of hot and cold can travel directly to the tooth nerve. Additionally, a lower pH in the mouth has been linked to periodontal or gum disease.
How to Protect Your Teeth if You Have Acid Reflux
There are some things you can do to help protect your teeth against the effects of acid reflux and which include:
- Chewing sugar-free gum to help stimulate saliva production. Saliva helps to neutralize the acid and contains minerals which help to re-harden tooth surfaces. If you have dry mouth or xerostomia, use a saliva substitute to help keep your mouth moist and to reduce acidity.
- If you have an acid reflux attack, wait a while before you brush your teeth. Immediately afterwards your tooth enamel is softer, but tooth enamel re-hardens as acidity levels normalize.
- Instead of brushing your teeth after an acid reflux episode, rinse your mouth with water. You can also make a mouth rinse to help neutralize acidity by mixing half a teaspoon of baking soda with a cup of water.
- It’s worth discussing the problem with your Ajax dentist to find out if fluoride treatments would be helpful to strengthen your teeth, or if you need to use a special mouth rinse.
- Try to identify any foods that could trigger an acid reflux attack such as alcohol, spicy or acidic foods and beverages, and caffeine. Some people find it helpful to eat smaller meals and to make sure they finish eating three hours before bedtime.
If you do have acid reflux or GERD, please talk to us about the best way to protect your teeth and gums during your next dental visit to Margolian Dentistry.