If you have acid reflux disease, medically known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), you could be receiving some serious damage to your teeth and not realize it. In patients with GERD, acid and undigested food can come up the esophagus when it’s not supposed to. This leads to symptoms of heartburn, but it can also majorly damage teeth. So what’s happening to your smile with acid reflux and how can you protect it?
Hydrochloric Acid Damages Tooth Enamel
Your stomach is protected from the harsh acids that help digest your food—but your teeth aren’t. Your teeth were never meant to be exposed to these acids, which are extremely corrosive to your teeth. Your teeth are protected with your tooth enamel, which is the toughest substance in the body. Unfortunately, tooth enamel doesn’t hold up against acids. These acids can come in the form of acidic foods such as sugar, or stomach acids for people with GERD.
When the acid backs up into your esophagus, traces of it can end up in your mouth. This lowers the pH of your oral cavity to be very acidic. Under these conditions, enamel can quickly get worn away. When enamel is gone, it’s much easier for cavities to form. This acidic environment worsens when you eat acidic foods in addition to having acid reflux.
What Happens When Enamel Is Gone
Once your enamel is gone, it doesn’t grow back. People who have damaged or missing enamel will often have to deal with the consequences for life. Enamel damage can lead to tooth sensitivity as well as cavities. When the protective layer of your teeth is no longer there, damage happens much faster. Missing enamel can also lead to discoloration of your teeth. If a cavity forms and is left untreated, root canal therapy may be needed. Missing enamel could also cause pain when you brush and floss in addition to eating hot or cold foods. Worst of all, if enamel damage becomes a problem yet your GERD continues to cause acids to end up in your mouth, damage can happen on a much larger scale.
How to Manage the Damage
Early diagnosis of GERD can minimize the damage that happens from stomach acids in your mouth. Unfortunately, many patients wait over a year to seek treatment for this problem! There are things you can do at home in addition to getting your condition treated by your doctor. These include not eating before bedtime—at least two hours before—and never laying down after eating. Laying down makes it much easier for acids to wash back into your mouth.
You can also eat smaller meals, which will help reduce stomach acid in the first place. Just eat more frequently in addition to smaller meals. Certain foods trigger certain people’s acid reflux—the most common ones include citrus foods, spicy and greasy foods, even chocolate and tomatoes. Know what triggers you and do your best to avoid it.
Quitting smoking, reducing alcohol consumption, and losing weight can also help you to live a healthier life in addition to managing your acid reflux. If you think you suffer from GERD, schedule an appointment with your doctor to diagnose and treat the condition before it has a chance to hurt your smile. Get a checkup with your dentist and talk to him or her about your acid reflux and what you can do. Acid reflux can harm your smile, but you can help circumvent the damage!