Study Shows Chronic Heartburn Increases Damage to Tooth Enamel
More than seven million people suffer from acid reflux and need to be aware of the danger that causes permanent and severe loss of tooth structure. Acid reflux-induced erosion is a condition caused when stomach contents reflux into the mouth, slowly dissolving tooth surfaces and leading to a series of dental issues.
What is Acid Reflux?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when the muscle at the end of your esophagusthe tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomachrandomly opens for a period of time or does not shut properly. Contents in your stomach, including highly acidic digestive juices, can leak back up into your esophagus, resulting in a burning sensation in your chest or throat known as heartburn. You may also taste stomach fluid in the back of your mouth, which is called acid indigestion. GERD occurs when you experience any of these symptoms more than twice a week.
Eventually, GERD can cause a slew of health issues, including ulcers and esophageal cancer. It can also cause dental problems. In fact, dentists are often the first health care professional to identify GERD in patients because one major sign of the disease is dental erosion, or dissolving of tooth surfaces. Dental erosion occurs because the acidic juices in the stomach come into contact with the mouth and, over time, break down your teeth.
Research Findings on Acid Reflux and Tooth Erosion
According to Dr. Daranee Tantbirojn, an associate professor in the department of restorative dentistry at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, the acid from the stomach is strong enough “to dissolve the tooth surface directly, or soften the tooth surface, which is later worn down layer by layer.”
Dr. Tantbirojn was the lead author of a recent study that appeared in General Dentistry, the Academy of General Dentistry’s peer-reviewed journal, and which found that almost half of patients in the study with this condition suffered much worse tooth wear and erosion than healthy people. The disease can ultimately lead to thin, sharp and pitted teeth.
Once the outer coating of the teeth (known as enamel) is gone, it’s gone for good, notes Dr. David Leader, an associate clinical professor at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. “The only thing that you can do is wait for it to become bad enough that we have to put a crown, veneer or filling on the tooth,” Leader adds.
Prevent Dental Erosion Due to GERD
So how does someone with heartburn prevent tooth damage? “Generally speaking, saliva is good as the body’s defense mechanism, says Dr. Tantbirojn. Saliva has a so-called buffering capacity, meaning it can neutralize acid. Saliva also contains small amounts of calcium and phosphate ions that can reduce the damage of the tooth.”
But there’s a limit to what your body’s natural production of saliva can do, according to Dr. Tantbirojn.
However, there are proactive steps you can take to protect your teeth:
Avoid brushing your teeth immediately after a reflux episode. Brushing may damage enamel that has already been weakened by acid.
Chew sugar-free gum. Chewing gum stimulates saliva flow, which reduces acid in your mouth.
To reduce the risk of demineralization of your teeth, ask your dentist about mouth rinses and toothpastes containing fluoride.
To dilute the acid in your mouth, rinse vigorously with water.
Rinsing with baking soda in water will neutralize the acid.
Sources: US News, Delta Dental, KnowYourTeeth.com