Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), better known as acid reflux, is a condition when acids in your stomach used for digesting food can come up the esophagus and into the oral cavity. This often causes the uncomfortable burning sensation known as heartburn. While acid reflux in and of itself can impact your quality of life, it can also affect your smile. How does acid reflux hurt your teeth?
Harsh Acids Wear Away Tooth Enamel
Tooth enamel erosion is one of the biggest challenges people with GERD face with their oral health. The acids in the stomach are so harsh that they can directly affect tooth enamel, even in small amounts. Your tooth enamel can be worn away, especially on the inside surfaces of your teeth and the chewing surfaces . Your dentist can typically notice this type of tooth enamel wear during your professional exam.
Acid reflux is especially damaging to your teeth while you’re asleep. Lying down can make it easier for stomach acids to get into the mouth. While you sleep, your mouth is also more dry, which means there’s less saliva to help buffer the acid’s effects against your teeth .
The most common effect of enamel erosion is tooth sensitivity, since enamel protects your teeth from bacteria and allows you to comfortably eat hot and cold foods. Without healthy tooth enamel, you may experience mild or severe tooth sensitivity that can impact your comfort and health.
Your Teeth May Look Different
As a result of enamel erosion with acid reflux, your teeth may begin to look different. Enamel is the translucent layer over the softer tissues of your tooth that keep teeth shiny and bright, but then this layer begins to wear away, teeth can appear more yellow or dark. For some people, their teeth may look flatter, thinner, or even more sharp due to the enamel erosion .
Without your protective tooth enamel, teeth are also more prone to cavities. For some people, this change in the appearance of their teeth—and the sensitivity that comes with enamel erosion—can lead to the need for a dental crown, filling, or veneer to protect the tooth or teeth from future damage.
Regular Dental Visits Can Help!
Many patients with GERD aren’t aware that their teeth are being affected by acid, which is why visiting your dentist regularly is so important. Let your dentist know if you have acid reflux, and follow their tips on how to keep your smile healthy and protected.
These tips could include using sugar-free antacids, rinsing your mouth with water, or using a fluoride mouthwash to prevent acids from harming the teeth . You also should never brush your teeth immediately after an episode of heartburn or acid reflux, as it can harm tooth enamel even more. Chewing sugar-free gum with xylitol can help, as it will increase saliva flow and reduce acids and oral bacteria in your mouth.
If you live with acid reflux, it’s important to keep your regular dental appointments so your dentist can closely monitor your teeth for any changes due to GERD. Always follow your dentist’s instructions for taking the best care of your teeth while managing your GERD!