It begins simply enough: you’re hungry, so you eat. You chew your food so it can easily travel to your stomach, where the proper acidic environment allows for good digestion, nutrient absorption and the destruction of harmful bacteria. What seems like a straight forward process gets complicated when some of the acid leaks into the esophagus and, over the long-term, leaves an imprint all the way back to your teeth.
While many GERD sufferers are aware of the health consequences caused by exposure to stomach acid in the esophagus (for more information see the previous post “Let’s Get Serious About GERD”), damage within the mouth is a lesser known problem that’s starting to gain more attention. Last March, a study that followed patients over a six-month period, measured tooth surface loss associated with GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) and found that people with ongoing acid reflux were more susceptible to tooth erosion than those without GERD. With the deterioration, came thin, sharp and pitted teeth.
Everyone experiences some tooth erosion due to chewing, but almost half of the GERD participants had teeth that were worn down several times higher than healthy participants (researchers used an optical scanner to measure the impact). Unfortunately, once the enamel is gone, there’s no way to get it back. A crown, veneer or filling is used to make up for the loss when a tooth has deteriorated to a certain point.
“We hope we can raise awareness that GERD, a condition quite common in any population, is able to cause tooth damage. Dental professionals are mostly aware of tooth erosion, but the public may not be,” said study lead author Dr. Daranee Tantbirojn, an associate professor in the department of restorative dentistry at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.
Even though several participants were taking GERD-related drugs to suppress acid, they suffered from tooth erosion anyway. “Some patients told us that they still have acid reflux episodes despite the medication, or they might have skipped the medication every now and then,” Tantbirojn said.
Given the higher incidence of tooth erosion with GERD, it’s important to see your dentist every six months. You may not be able to see the difference in your teeth, but your dentist can. Plus, you may pick up some tips on how to protect one of your most valuable assets – which may include the use of a special rinse or toothpaste. In the mean time, don’t brush immediately after an acid reflux episode and chew on a piece of Xylitol, which reduces acid in the mouth.
While you can’t reverse the damage to your teeth, you can make changes today that will help put an end to reflux episodes and reduce the erosion. Start by sleeping on an incline and on your side with MedCline™, which will relieve the most damaging reflux – nighttime reflux. Eat smaller meals and avoid trigger foods that can bring on more intense episodes. And finally, check in with your dentist every six months.
1. Daranee Tantbirojn, DDS, MS, PhD; Maria R. Pintado, MPH; Antheunis Versluis, PhD; Carol Dunn, RDA, CCRP; Ralph Delong, DDS, MS, PhD. “Quantitative Analysis Of Tooth Surface Loss Associated With Gastroesophagealreflux Disease”. JADA 143(3)http://jada.ada.org. March 2012.
2. Randy Dotinga. “Acid Reflux From Chronic Heartburn May Damage Teeth”. US News.