Are you aware that your digestive health can affect your oral health? If you suffer from frequent stomach upset, it can gradually wear away the protective enamel from your teeth. This process is referred to as tooth erosion. Tooth erosion can affect the appearance of your teeth. Moreover, it can allow harmful bacteria to enter your mouth, causing cavities. This stomach upset is commonly known as acid reflux.
Acid reflux affects more than 37% of young people and 50% of adults. This happens due to inadequate closure of your esophageal sphincters.
Only 10 percent of people get the common symptom of heartburn pain. Some may experience sore throat, post-nasal drip, hoarseness, chronic cough, throat clearing, asthma-like wheezing, difficulty swallowing, choking, and chest pain.
What is Acid Reflux?
Acid reflux is an uncomfortable situation for you. But are you aware that it can silently damage your teeth (also your skin and teeth) in the process? So, how does acid reflux occur? Acid reflux occurs when acid produced by your stomach moves up into the esophagus.
This slowly causes chest pain, commonly known as heartburn. When it reaches your mouth, that same acid can wear away the enamel of your teeth.
However, over some time, there will be the erosion of this strong shell. You are leaving your teeth vulnerable to tooth decay and tooth cavities. Your first symptom will be in the form of niggling tooth pain when you take cold or hot food, sweets, and drinks.
Food particles get in via holes in your enamel thereby, aggravating your nerves within your tooth root.
Stomach acid gradually eats away the tooth enamel. You might notice a pattern of loss of enamel on the back teeth. This will be an indication for your dentist that you have GERD.
How Do Stomach Problems Affect Your Teeth?
Natural acids are continuously produced by your stomach, which helps your body digest food. Sometimes, these acids travel up your throat and into the mouth. This behavior is noticed especially after you have a large meal. In normal circumstances, your saliva rebalances the acid levels in your mouth.
Acid reflux gastroesophageal reflux. For people suffering from gastroesophageal reflux, the gastric acids reach the mouth during the day. This is a damaging process since you swallow less often while sleeping, and your mouth produces less saliva.
Another concern is dry mouth which is often caused by several acid reflux medicines. Saliva in your mouth helps neutralize the acids caused by acid reflux. Besides, it also helps wash away food particles present on your teeth. Saliva reduces the occurrence of bacteria that attack your tooth enamel. Consequently, lower saliva creation by your salivary glands can increase the risk of tooth cavities.
How Acid Reflux Affects Your Teeth?
A muscular ring is situated at the bottom of your esophagus, called the lower esophageal sphincter, which acts as a one-way valve. It helps to keep your stomach contents from moving back up your digestive tract into your throat.
But when this sphincter becomes weak or damaged, the stomach acids can travel up into the esophagus. And it can even enter your mouth. As your stomach contents start to flow backward, a burning sensation is felt in your throat or chest. As a result, you suffer from heartburn and acid indigestion. Tooth erosion is a prominent sign of GERD. The acid washing causes a breakdown of your tooth’s protective outer coating or the enamel.
Acidity is measured on the pH scale, and a normal healthy oral pH is about 7.0, which is almost the same as that of pure water. Stomach acid has a pH of about 2.0 or less, strong enough to break down the food. A more concentrated acidic solution with a pH of 5.5 or lower starts to dissolve your tooth enamel. Stomach acid can cause severe dental damage.
Unfortunately, you may not realize how acid reflux can affect your oral health till severe damage has already been done. And this can only be examined by your dentist.
Erosion from acid reflux is mainly seen on the inside surfaces of upper teeth. These teeth can become thin, chipped, sharp, yellow, pitted, and sensitive. This might require extensive and expensive dental procedures soon.
Lower pH saliva in your mouth can damage the soft tissues and lead to periodontal or gum disease. A 2014 study established a strong correlation between chronic periodontitis and acid reflux.
Periodontal disease is the inflammation of the gums and other supporting structures of your teeth. It can even cause bone loss. It can cause the loosening of teeth from the gums, and eventually, the teeth may drop out.
If you experience even very subtle symptoms of acid reflux, you can have dental erosion and gum disease. So your dentist can not only help identify the condition and suggest the appropriate treatment plan.
Acid Reflux Erodes Your Teeth
By now, you must be aware that acid reflux can wear away the enamel on the inner surfaces of your teeth? It can wear away the enamel from the chewing surfaces as well.
Your dentist will notice this during a regular dental check-up. If the enamel of your teeth has started to wear away, you might feel the following symptoms:
- You might face more significant risks for tooth cavities over time.
- Notice an uncommon yellowish discoloration of the teeth.
- Develop a tooth abscess in extreme cases.
- Notice that your fillings have changed.
- Even experience tooth loss, also in severe cases.
- When taking hot, cold, or sweet drinks, you feel pain or sensitivity.
Once tooth erosion occurs, you may need tooth fillings, dental crowns, a root canal treatment, or even extraction. Dental veneers may be another option for restoring your smile.
Oral Symptoms of Acid Reflux
Oral symptoms of acid reflux may include any of the following:
- Tooth sensitivity
- Generalized mouth pain and irritation
- Demineralization of enamel (initially chalky look)
- Chronic decay
- Excessive erosion of enamel – may be located on the palatal surfaces of the maxillary teeth initially
- Excess salivation
- Sour taste
- Pain on swallowing
What Can You Do? Visit Your Dentist
The loss of your tooth enamel is permanent, and it can increase the risk of tooth decay shortly. You must note that the tooth enamel is a protective layer on the outside of your teeth.
Acid reflux can lead to other long-term damage, like irritation and inflammation of your esophagus. This will make increase your chances of contracting esophageal cancer when you age.
Hence it is imperative to undergo a regular oral check-up from your dentist. He may detect early symptoms of a potentially severe acid reflux problem before it progresses. Interestingly more than ninety percent of systemic diseases have oral manifestations, which doctors can see during regular oral examinations.
How to Protect Your Teeth if You Have Acid Reflux?
Several things can eat away the enamel of your teeth. Eating too many sweets, dry mouth condition, sour food, binge drinking, drugs with high acids in them, brushing your teeth too hard, and teeth grinding, also called bruxism.
Perhaps the most damaging of all the conditions mentioned above is acid reflux. A few of these tips given below can help prevent acid reflux from damaging your teeth:
1 Chew only sugar-free gum to reduce the amount of acid.
To stimulate saliva production, you can try to chew sugar-free xylitol gums. The saliva will assist in neutralizing acid and minerals that help build up plaque. Almost all chewing gums can stimulate the production of saliva. Chewing gum with the sugar substitute xylitol can be incredibly beneficial. It helps to reduce calcium loss. It also has the added benefit of assisting in producing more saliva and eventually helps to strengthen your teeth with minerals.
2. Do not brush your teeth just after acid reflux.
It would help if you refrained from brushing your teeth immediately after an acid reflux bout. Acid tends to soften your tooth enamel. So, you must wait an hour so that the saliva can wash out the acid and help build the minerals in the teeth. Once the acidity level normalization is complete, your tooth enamel will re-harden.
3. Rinse your mouth with water post a reflux episode.
It would help if you did not brush your teeth immediately after an acid reflux bout. Instead, it would help if you rinse your mouth with normal water. You can neutralize acidity in your mouth by using a mouth rinse.
4 Neutralize the acid.
It would help if you neutralized the acidic effect. Mix half a teaspoon of baking soda in a cup of water and use the solution to rinse your mouth. You can also chew an antacid tablet or rinse with antacid suspension. Sugar-free forms of antacids are the best option.
5 Ask your dentist about fluoride treatments.
Discuss with your dentist about fluoride treatments for strengthening your teeth. These could include special mouth rinses, fluoride toothpaste, or in-office treatments. Toothpaste containing ACP or amorphous calcium phosphate can also prevent enamel erosion.
6 Avoiding Food that can trigger acid reflux.
Researchers have compiled a long list of food items that can trigger heartburn. You must identify any food that could trigger an acid reflux attack: acidic or spicy foods, alcohol, beverages, citrus fruits, and caffeine. Many people find it helpful to eat smaller meals, and they make sure they finish eating three hours before bedtime.
Keep Your Acid Reflux Under Control
It would be best if you visited your dentist at least once every six months for a thorough cleaning and check-up. Flossing teeth and brushing as directed can be helpful. Consult your dentist if any issues may concern you.
It would also help if you also visited a gastroenterologist. Your doctor will be the right person to advise you on methods to control your acid reflux, thereby preventing the acid from reaching your teeth. Your doctor might ask you to eat smaller meals, lose weight, refrain from lying down right after dinner, avoid acidic foods, quit smoking, and reduce alcohol intake.
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