Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is commonly known as acid reflux. It’s a condition in which stomach contents leak backward into the esophagus. Acid reflux occurs when the ring of muscle where the esophagus meets the stomach isn’t working properly. It’s one of the fastest growing conditions for which patients seek medical attention and one that can ruin teeth.
In the early stages, acid reflux generally appears as heartburn or indigestion that becomes worse after eating or when lying down. The condition causes pain in the lower chest area. The pain of acid reflux can be so intense that people may think they’re having a heart attack.
Individuals with GERD may experience symptoms of asthma, wheezing and vomiting, along with a dry and persistent cough. Those with acid reflux may have chronic bad breath, soreness in the throat, laryngitis and tooth erosion.
The exact cause of GERD is still unknown and in the majority of cases no specific cause can be found, though it’s often aggravated by certain foods and drinks. It strikes people of all ages and there’s no way to determine which individuals will develop the condition.
People with GERD generally have lifestyle factors in common that may contribute to the condition. Those that smoke, are obese and receive little exercise are more likely to develop the condition. A lack of sufficient dietary fiber, those with a high salt intake and people taking allergy, pain or antidepressant medications are also at risk.
Patients learn to avoid foods that aggravate the condition and to avoid tight clothing around the abdomen. Antacids offer short-term relief. Acid reflux damages the esophagus and left untreated, individuals are at increased risk for throat cancer and severe oral health problems.
Acid reflux causes and accelerates decay and cavities. As stomach contents come up the esophagus and enter the mouth, it eats away at tooth enamel. Once enamel wears away, it can’t be replaced. Enamel erosion opens a pathway for germs and bacteria to infiltrate the mouth that can result in gum disease and infection.
Individuals with acid reflux tend to experience dry mouth that promotes the growth of bacteria, which further exacerbates the problem. Medications taken to ease the symptoms of GERD are often responsible for increased dental plaque that’s more difficult to remove.
LET US HELP PROTECT YOUR TEETH
A dentist is often the first person to observe the symptoms of GERD and make a diagnosis. We can help by detecting unusual erosion and cavity formation that provides an early indication of acid reflux disease. A patient’s diet has an impact on acid reflux and we can provide advice and guidance about foods that promote tooth health and lessen the effects of GERD.
Regular cleanings are an essential element for people with acid reflux. Patients with GERD should never brush their teeth immediately after an episode of acid reflux. Dental professionals can provide a refresher course on brushing and flossing, explain the best times to brush, and suggest lifestyle changes that can help lessen the effects.
A variety of rinses and dental products are available that help protect teeth. We can recommend the best toothbrushes and toothpaste, rinses and mouth washes to help neutralize stomach acid in the mouth and clean teeth without causing further damage. We can assist you with information on medications to avoid that contribute to GERD and offer alternatives.
Those who have lived with acid reflux for many years may find that their teeth have become too badly damaged to be saved. We can assist with custom dentures and implants that allow patients to eat normally and retain a confident smile.