Your stomach is just one big processing plant: Incoming food is broken down into individual nutrients that are then absorbed into the body. The main food "de-constructor" for this process is stomach acid, a powerful fluid comparable in strength to battery acid. All's well as long as it remains in the stomach—but should it escape, it can wreak havoc on other parts of the body, including teeth.
That's the reality for 1 in 5 Americans with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Also known as acid reflux, GERD occurs when the ring of muscle at the base of the esophagus—which ordinarily keeps stomach acid contained—weakens to allow it into the esophagus. It can then irritate the esophageal lining, giving rise to the burning sensation of indigestion.
The scenario changes, however, if acid continues up into the mouth. This puts tooth enamel at risk for erosion. The resulting high acidity is enough to dissolve the mineral content of enamel, which could jeopardize the survival of affected teeth.
If you've been diagnosed with GERD, your teeth could be in harm's way. In recognition of GERD Awareness Week (November 17-23), here's what you can do to protect them from this potentially damaging disease.
Manage your GERD symptoms. There are effective ways to control GERD and reduce the likelihood of acid in the mouth with antacids or medication. You can also lessen reflux symptoms by quitting smoking and avoiding alcohol, caffeine or acidic foods and beverages. Finishing meals at least three hours before bed or avoiding lying down right after eating can also lessen reflux episodes.
Boost saliva to neutralize acid. Saliva neutralizes acid and helps restore minerals to enamel. You can boost its production by drinking more water, using a saliva-boosting product or chewing xylitol-sweetened gum. You can also decrease mouth acidity by chewing an antacid tablet or rinsing your mouth after eating or after a reflux episode with water mixed with a little baking soda.
Use fluoride oral hygiene products. You can further protect your teeth from acid by using oral hygiene products with fluoride, a chemical compound proven to strengthen enamel. If needed, we can also apply stronger fluoride solutions directly to the teeth or prescribe special mouthrinses with extra fluoride.
If you've been dealing with GERD symptoms, visit us for an exam to check for any adverse dental effects. The sooner we treat GERD-related enamel erosion, the better the outcome for your teeth.
If you would like more information on protecting your dental health from acid reflux, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “GERD and Oral Health.”