Acid Reflux and Your Teeth

Acid Reflux.

Do you ever get heartburn? Most people do, with about ten percent of Americans suffering daily from the discomfort this condition causes. While heartburn is common, it’s not actually natural, and it’s caused by a disorder called acid reflux or gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD). And while the most well-known symptom of acid reflux is heartburn, that’s far from the only way this problem affects the body. In fact, chronic acid reflux can be very hard on your teeth. Let’s look at why, and what you can do about it.

First, what is acid reflux? When your digestive system is working the way it’s supposed to, you swallow and your food travels through the esophagus to the stomach. The stomach has acids that digest the food, but there is a muscle that connects the stomach and esophagus, and it closes to keep the food and acid from going back up the esophagus- the wrong way. In people suffering from GERD or acid reflux, this muscle is weak, and it allows the food and stomach acid to travel back up, causing burning in the chest, neck and throat, and a bitter acidic taste.

If you think about the mechanics of acid reflux, you can probably already deduce why this condition would cause problems for your teeth. Your teeth are covered with tooth enamel, which is the strongest substance in the body and protects the teeth from things like bacteria, chemicals, and extreme temperatures. However, over time, this enamel and begin to erode. Stomach acid hastens that erosion, in effect dissolving the enamel and leaving your teeth vulnerable to decay. In fact, in some cases, stomach acid can dramatically decrease the size of your teeth.

How do you know if acid reflux is damaging your teeth? You might notice that your teeth are more sensitive, especially to hot, cold, or sweet foods and beverages. Your teeth also might chip, seem thinner or smaller, or have sharp edges. You may experience pain and irritation in your mouth, and your teeth may become discolored or dark.

If you have acid reflux, what can you do to protect your teeth from these problems?

  • Start by controlling your acid reflux. Talk to your primary care physician or a gastroenterologist about lifestyle changes you may need to make. Things like removing trigger foods from your diet, quitting smoking, losing weight, and sleeping with your head raised may all be recommended. You may also choose to use antacids to control your symptoms, but do this sparingly, as this type of medication can cause dental problems.
  • Be careful with your teeth. Drink through a straw if you’re drinking anything acidic, like soda, coffee, or juice. Drink water with your meals, and drink water between meals, to continually rinse your mouth. Brush with fluoride toothpaste, but avoid brushing for 30 minutes to an hour after eating, so that you don’t brush your enamel when it’s softened. Eat a piece of cheese or drink some milk after your meals, to neutralize the acid.
  • See your dentist regularly. Your dentist can alert you to signs of tooth erosion, and can also offer a variety of treatments to help restore your enamel and offset the damage of acid reflux.

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