If you’ve ever had a bad case of heartburn, you know how uncomfortable it can be! There are many digestive disorders that can cause chronic acid reflux. GERD refers to chronic acid reflux, where stomach acid flows upward into the esophagus and mouth. Not only can conditions like GERD be painful, they can also cause serious damage to the tissues of your esophagus and throat. Frequent acid reflux can also cause serious damage to your teeth!
How Does Acid Damage Your Teeth?
Our teeth are made up of a complex of minerals. The dense outer layer (enamel) is a crystalline structure called hydroxyapatite, consisting mostly of calcium and phosphate. While enamel is super strong and resistant to damage, it’s not invincible. Enamel’s kryptonite? Acid.
Acid damages our teeth by breaking the strong bonds in the mineral complex of hydroxyapatite. Most of the time, that acid will come from foods and drinks. Citrus, starch, and sugar can all cause damage because they are highly acidic or break down into acid during digestion. Not all acids come from food, however. Our own body also produces acid!
Acid is a key component in many of our bodily functions, including digestion. We need acid to help break down food, and it doesn’t cause problems as long as that acid stays where it’s supposed to be—namely in our stomach. Some foods, drinks, medications, or diseases can trigger a sudden increase in acid production, leading to reflux. In some cases, the sphincters that are supposed to seal our stomach off and keep the acid in the right place may become compromised or have trouble sealing completely. Either way, when acid starts to move into new territory, it can create huge problems.
Acid Reflux Can Cause Serious Damage to Your Teeth!
Stomach acid is one of the strongest acids in the world. In fact, its pH is slightly more acidic than battery acid! If your oral cavity is frequently exposed to stomach acid due to reflux or frequent vomiting, it can damage your throat, tongue, gums, and most of all your teeth.
Every time your teeth are exposed to stomach acid, more and more enamel is stripped away. While it’s a relatively slow process, only removing microscopic layers of mineral at a time, the cumulative effect over time can be disastrous.
Frequent acid exposure causes a condition called erosion. Erosion is the slow loss of mineral from the teeth. It will happen fastest where your teeth get hit most often with strong acids. For most people, signs of erosion will show up on the back side of the front teeth first. However, for patients struggling with bulimia or frequent vomiting may show erosion on the top molars first. Those who get nighttime reflux and sleep on their side may see erosion on only one side but not the other. In addition to erosion, reflux disorders can also make your teeth more prone to decay because they lack sufficient protection and can’t return as easily to a healthy pH.
How to Prevent Acid Reflux from Causing Tooth Damage
So we know stomach acid is bad for your teeth. But what can you do to prevent erosion and decay? First and foremost, see your dentist regularly, especially if you’re aware you experience reflux, frequent heartburn, or eating disorders. Let us know if you’re struggling with any of those conditions that may make you more prone to acid exposure so we can be on the lookout for signs of damage. In some cases, your dentist or hygienist here at Lake Baldwin Dental may actually bring it up before you do! We see many patients with silent reflux, which is frequent heartburn without the usual pain and discomfort.
Whether you already know your have reflux or your hygienist has broken the news, be sure to talk to your physician about it. Getting treated for reflux will help protect your teeth and your whole-body health!
What to Do at Home
To protect your teeth, be sure you’re using a high quality, low-abrasive fluoride toothpaste. We typically recommend Sensodyne products because they don’t have rough abrasives like other brands. Abrasive agents like whitening ingredients are especially damaging to teeth with frequent acid exposure. Likewise, use a soft toothbrush to prevent excessive abrasion and gently cleanse your teeth.
Fluoride is your greatest ally to combat erosion and decay. It’s a naturally occurring mineral that becomes part of the mineral structure of your tooth, reinforcing and strengthening the mineral. Patients with reflux, erosion, or frequent decay should always get a professional fluoride treatment after every cleaning. In some cases, we may also recommend prescription-strength products to use at home, or even trays to wear for deep fluoride treatments.
When you’re actively experiencing a reflux episode, or if you’ve just vomited, don’t brush your teeth right away. Brushing when your teeth are exposed to acid can actually do more damage! Instead, rinse with water or a fluoride rinse. Or, you can dissolve baking soda in water and swish to neutralize the acid. Sugar-free gum can also help to cleanse and neutralize acids!
Damaged Teeth from Acid Reflux? We Can Help!
If your teeth have been damaged by acid erosion due to reflux, your smile may have suffered. Many people with chronic reflux lose function and esthetics and end up having difficulty smiling with confidence and eating comfortably. The good news is, no matter how reflux has damaged your teeth, we can build a plan to help.
The first step will be a thorough exam and consultation. We want to hear your concerns and your goals for recovery. From there, we will help you build a customized plan to address any problems you may have. Erosion can cause severe sensitivity, gum recession, painful and brittle teeth, chipping, fractures, and dark or discolored teeth. We can address all of these problems with everything from full mouth rehabilitation to cosmetic dentistry right here in our office near downtown Orlando.
We also have a team of specialists who we work with very closely to address any treatments that can’t be done in our office. That means you’ll have access to comprehensive care for your complete oral health so you can reclaim your dental health and smile with confidence.
If you suffer with reflux or eating disorders, please don’t hesitate to call. Schedule your consultation or next dental health check-up so we can get you on the road to recovery! Keep smiling, Orlando!