Acid reflux or other esophageal conditions can result in stomach acids making their way back up your throat and into your mouth. These acids are designed to break down foods and liquids, so it stands to reason that they can also affect your teeth. When acids wear down your protective tooth enamel, this is a process known as tooth erosion.
Tooth erosion can be problematic for a number of reasons. For starters, it can visibly affect the appearance of your teeth. Moreover, acid erosion can make it easier for harmful bacteria to affect teeth, which can lead to the development of cavities.
Stomach Acid and Your Teeth
Acid reflux more commonly affects older men, but you may have noticed heartburn or acid reflux after eating a large, spicy meal. If it happens very rarely, it’s not usually a problem because our saliva can help to counterbalance the acid and protect the teeth. However, if the problem is chronic, like for those individuals suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), it can be more than our saliva can handle.
Individuals with GERD and chronic acid reflux are especially at risk for tooth decay at nighttime. This time can be more damaging because you are swallowing and removing this acid less often, and your mouth produces less saliva when you’re sleeping. Also, some medications that may be prescribed to combat acid reflux may contribute to dry mouth, which reduces the amount of helpful saliva in your mouth.
Symptoms of reflux-related tooth erosion include:
- Pain or sensitivity when drinking hot or cold beverages
- A yellowish hue of the teeth
- Changes to your filings
- Increased cavity risk
- In extreme cases, the development of an abscess or tooth loss
Protecting Your Teeth Against Acid Reflux
It is very important to take steps to prevent acid reflux from damaging the enamel of your teeth, because this enamel doesn’t rejuvenate once it’s gone. There are some dental techniques that can help treat damage caused by acid erosion, but prevention is preferred to treatment. Some prevention techniques include:
- Chewing sugar-free gum to encourage saliva production.
- Using prescription or over-the-counter fluoride and desensitizing toothpaste to strengthen tooth enamel.
- Avoid alcohol and tobacco, and stop eating at least three hours before bedtime, as this can help reduce the frequency of acid reflux episodes.
- Talk with your physician or an endocrine specialist about the underlying cause of your acid reflux.
- Visit a dentist regularly to keep your teeth clean and to get answers to any issues you may be having with acid reflux erosion.
For more information about acid reflux-related teeth issues, or for answers to other dental questions, reach out to Dr. Brooks’ office.