Impact Of Acid Reflux On Your Teeth
If you have ever experienced acid reflux before, then you know how much pain and discomfort it can cause you. But did you know that this acid can also be detrimental to your dental health?
This article will explain to you what acid reflux is, its effects on your dental health, how to treat it, and ways to protect your teeth from damage.
If you are looking for a Malta dentist or a Gozo dentist, you can book a dental appointment online at one of Savina Dental Clinics, or contact us directly on (+356) 2125 7253 (Skyparks Business Centre, Malta International Airport), or (+356) 2155 7323 (Dingli Street, Victoria, Gozo). For international patients, it is recommended to request a free e-consultation where we can discuss your individual case and treatment options.
What is acid reflux?
Also known as heartburn, pyrosis, acid indigestion or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), acid reflux is a heartburn feeling in the chest that occurs when stomach acid persistently travels back up into your mouth from your stomach through the food pipe.
The stomach contains hydrochloric acid, a strong acid that helps to break down food and protect against harmful pathogens such as bacteria.
The lining of the stomach is specially adapted to protect it from the powerful acid, but the food pipe – the oesophagus – is not protected. when this acid is regurgitated back into the oesophagus, you may experience heartburn, acid indigestion, trouble swallowing and burning pain in the lower chest area.
What causes acid reflux?
The most common cause of acid reflux is a stomach abnormality called hiatus hernia. This condition occurs when the lower oesophagus sphincter (LES) – a ring of muscles that controls the opening and closing of the stomach -fails to close all the way or opens too often, allowing acids produced by the stomach to move back into the oesophagus. This causes a burning chest discomfort, popularly known as heartburn. Other causes of acid reflux include:
- Being overweight or obese
- Eating large meals or lying down right after a meal
- Snacking close to bedtime
- Eating certain foods such as citrus, chocolate, mint, tomato, onions, garlic, spicy or fatty foods
- Drinking certain beverages like alcohol, coffee, tea, or carbonated drinks
- Taking aspirin, ibuprofen, blood pressure medications or certain muscle relaxers
- A bacterium known as Helicobacter pylori
How does acid reflux disease affect your oral health?
People who suffer from acid reflux regularly are at a greater risk of enamel erosion and other periodontal problems. The tooth enamel starts corroding at a pH of 5.5. The pH level of stomach acid is usually 2 or less (note that the lower the pH, the more acidic the substance).
With frequent exposure to stomach acid, the acid begins to corrode and eat away the protective layer of teeth, also called tooth erosion. Without the protective layer of strong enamel, your teeth become significantly weakened and at risk for decay, cavities, discolouration and sensitivity.
As the tooth enamel breaks down, the sensitive inner dentine layer becomes exposed, leading to more adverse complications with your oral health. If not caught early, the damage caused by acid reflux to your teeth may be irreversible or difficult/complex to treat.
However, if detected early, your teeth may be treated with composite bonding, fillings, onlays, crowns, or, if required, root canal treatments. Usually, your dentist or hygienist will be among the first people to notice these changes.
Signs and symptoms of acid reflux disease
Different people experience acid reflux differently. But some of the most common signs and symptoms of acid reflux include:
- Heartburn – A burning sensation in your chest that usually occurs after eating. This discomfort is worse at night
- Difficulty swallowing – Acid reflux can cause narrowing of the food pipe, which causes difficulty swallowing food
- Regurgitation – A sour or bitter-tasting acid backing up into your mouth or throat
- Chronic coughing – Dry cough, hoarseness, wheezing or chronic sore throat
- Burning sensation in the mouth
- Sore throat
- Bad breath
Signs that acid reflux is affecting your dental health
It is important to understand that dental damage caused by acid reflux may not be noticeable, especially in the early stages. As such, it is important that you see your dentist regularly. Some common signs to look out for include:
- Tooth enamel erosion – acid reflux eats at the teeth, leaving you with sharp and discoloured tooth edges
- Tooth sensitivity – You may experience sensitivity to certain foods and drinks, especially hot, cold or sweet
- Teeth chipping and discolouration
How is acid reflux treated?
It is crucial that you consult your doctor if you experience symptoms of acid reflux at least twice a week or if your dental hygienist or dentist notices any negative changes in your dental health that is indicative of acid reflux. Your doctor may conduct several tests to confirm the diagnosis as well as check for other issues. These tests may include endoscopy, a biopsy, pH monitoring, oesophagal manometry or a barium swallow.
To treat acid reflux, your doctor may prescribe over-the-counter medication such as antacids, H2 receptor blockers or proton pump inhibitors. They may also advise you to try to lose weight, quit smoking, avoid big heavy meals before bed or elevate your head when sleeping.
Ways to protect your teeth from acid reflux
As well as suggesting or prescribing certain medication, your dentist may recommend other things that you can do to protect your teeth against stomach acid. These include:
- Practice good dental care – Brush and floss your teeth twice a day. Also, visit your dentist every 6 months.
- Brush your teeth using fluoride toothpaste and mouthwash – Fluoride strengthens the enamel
- Avoid brushing your teeth immediately after an acidic meal. Ideally, you should wait at least an hour
- Checking your diet – Avoid acidic foods and beverages
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day
- Swish water in your mouth after eating
- Drink through a straw – If you must drink soda or juice, use a straw, so the liquid does not come into contact with your teeth much
- Chew sugar-free gum
- Limit spicy or sour foods to catch problems early
As with many dental health issues, early detection is key. Make sure you visit your dentist twice a year for checkups and cleaning. This way, any potential problems can be detected and treated early, minimizing the risk of long-term damage.
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