GERD, or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, is a chronic digestive condition that affects more than 7 million people worldwide. While many people experience acid reflux or heartburn on occasion, weekly or daily symptoms could mean you suffer from GERD.
It’s well known that GERD can cause damage to your esophagus, but fewer people know that GERD can harm your teeth.
GERD Isn’t Great for Teeth
One of the effects of GERD is that more hydrochloric acid from your stomach ends up in your mouth, causing something called dental erosion. In fact, the effect on teeth can be so intense that your dentist might notice the symptoms before you do.
The pH balance of the mouth can indicate how much stomach acid is present in saliva. The lower the pH, measured on a scale of one to 14, the more acidic a substance is. Normal saliva has a pH between 6.2 and 7.6, and anything lower than 5.5 can start to dissolve tooth enamel. Stomach acid has a pH of 2.0, so it can have a significant effect on your enamel.
Dental erosion occurs in progressive steps, usually starting with heat sensitivity, or sensitivity to sweet foods. When enamel wears thinner, teeth will start to look discolored, and might start to show cracks and chips. Eventually, teeth can be worn down so significantly that sensitivity becomes extreme and indentations, called “cupping,” appear on the teeth.
Unfortunately, enamel loss is permanent — once your enamel is damaged, it will never regrow. Your teeth will be unprotected, and will decay more quickly. Often, reconstructive dentistry is needed to fully repair teeth from the effects of GERD.
What You Can Do
There are a few basic lifestyle changes you can make to reduce the frequency and intensity of GERD symptoms. It’s beneficial to avoid alcohol, caffeine, and smoking. Dietary changes can have a huge impact. Smaller, more frequent meals can help, and it’s best to avoid greasy and fatty foods, chocolate, mint, citrus, tomatoes, and spicy foods. You should also avoid eating within three hours of going to bed, to give your body time to digest. However, the science supporting these changes is not robust. The most significant lifestyle change you can make is losing weight.
It’s also important to tell your dentist if you have, or think you have, GERD. It’s likely that they’ll see the symptoms of it in your mouth, but keeping them informed can help them better treat the effects.
Getting regular and expert dental cleanings is a must if your teeth are in the line of fire from GERD! A good dentist can help you reduce the negative effects of your saliva’s increased acidity and prevent further damage to your enamel.
In addition, it’s extremely common for GERD and sleep apnea to come as an unpleasant packaged set: Over 80% of those who suffer from GERD report sleep disruption from it. Although researchers are still trying to determine if there is a causal relationship between the two issues, treatment for sleep apnea could reduce GERD symptoms as well.