An estimated 60 million Americans suffer from acid reflux at least once a month, and approximately 15 million people feel the discomfort on a daily basis, according to the American College of Gastroenterology. Having acid reflux is not only uncomfortable, it can create serious health conditions in your esophagus and in your dental health.
What is Acid Reflux?
People sometimes refer to acid reflux as heartburn, however, the terms can have different meanings. The actual problem is GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, a diagnosis defined by regularly-occurring symptoms of the flow of gastric contents into the esophagus. Heartburn is one of those symptoms and acid reflux is one of the reasons for GERD. Those with GERD may experience any of the following signs and symptoms:
- A burning sensation in their chest, throat or back of the mouth, usually after eating
- Difficulty swallowing or a feeling of fullness in the chest
- Regurgitation of food or a sour liquid
- Chest pain
- Chronic cough
- Disrupted sleep
How Acid Reflux Affects Your Dental Health
Acid reflux is a common cause of dental erosion. Because these digestive juices contain acid, it is only a matter of time before they begin to erode the dental enamel and break down the tooth surfaces. Once that enamel is gone, it cannot be replaced, and pain, sensitivity, yellowing of the teeth, and cavities can occur. And there is nothing that can be done to reverse the erosion once it occurs.
The problems of acid reflux include:
- Frequent contact of acid with the tooth’s surface
- Replacement of saliva with acid
Your dentist may be the first person to diagnose GERD. A review study listed by the National Library of Medicine reported, “A median prevalence of 32.5% for GERD in adult patients who had tooth erosion.”
To help protect your teeth, do not brush your teeth following an acid reflux episode. This may erode the enamel further. Instead, rinse your mouth or chew sugar-free gum to help the natural flow of saliva. This will help to rinse away the stomach acids.
How Can I Help Reduce Acid Reflux?
Simple lifestyle changes may help in reducing the symptoms or causes of GERD or acid reflux. They include:
- Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity puts pressure on the abdomen and causes the stomach to be pushed up.
- Quit smoking. Smoking decreases function of the lower esophagus.
- Eat slowly. Chew each bite thoroughly and swallow before taking in more food.
- Don’t lie down after a meal. Wait three hours before lying down or going to bed.
- Avoid trigger foods. Common triggers include acidic foods like coffee, chocolate, garlic, onion, caffeine, tomato sauce and alcohol. Fatty or fried foods can also create acid reflux.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing. Tight clothing puts pressure on the abdomen.
Risk factors for GERD can include:
- Heavy meals
- Intestinal obstruction
- Alcohol, nicotine, caffeine or spicy foods consumption
- Some medications
- Obstructive sleep apnea
Ensure Great Dental Health with Advanced Family Dentistry
At Advanced Family Dentistry, our goal is to ensure your dental health throughout your lifetime. We’ll discuss your overall health as well as the condition of your teeth and mouth, and encourage you to ask questions during your regular checkups. Education and prevention are part of the process of oral care.
If you’re concerned about acid reflux or GERD, let’s talk about it to see how we can help. Contact Advanced Family Dentistry at 703.390.9191.
Dr. Sonny Kim is a Diplomat of the International Congress of Oral Implantologists (ICOI), the highest education level for general dentists in this field.
Advanced Family Dentistry
Dr. Sonny Kim, DMD
11876 Sunrise Valley Dr., Suite 101
Reston, VA 20191