Acid Reflux and Dental Health: 5 Tips to Protect Your Teeth From the Effects of GERD

Acid reflux can harm oral health.

If you’ve never experienced acid reflux, consider yourself among the lucky ones. According to Yale Medicine, over 20% of people experience acid reflux. And it’s not a pleasant feeling—that feeling when your stomach’s content regurgitates its way back into your esophagus. Not only does it make you feel unwell, but it can leave a horrid taste in your mouth and a burning sensation in your throat and chest. 

What many people don’t realize, however, is that acid reflux isn’t good for your teeth, either. In fact, that acid can erode your tooth enamel, leaving you more susceptible to tooth decay. So, how can you protect your teeth from the harmful effects of acid reflux? Read on. We’ll tell you what you need to know.

What is acid reflux and its causes?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic condition characterized by the repeated backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus. This acid reflux, or backwash, irritates the esophageal lining, leading to discomfort and potential complications.

Common Causes of Acid Reflux

Consider these common culprits of acid reflux that can literally, destroy our teeth

  • Dietary factors: Certain foods and beverages, such as coffee, tomatoes, alcohol, chocolate, and fatty or spicy foods, can trigger acid reflux.
  • Weight: Being overweight increases the risk of GERD, as it puts pressure on the stomach, facilitating acid reflux.
  • Smoking: Tobacco smoke can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter, allowing stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus.
  • Pregnancy: Hormonal changes during pregnancy, particularly increased levels of progesterone and estrogen, can relax the esophageal sphincter, contributing to acid reflux.
  • Stress and anxiety: Emotional stress and anxiety can exacerbate GERD symptoms by affecting digestion and increasing stomach acid production.
  • Medications: Certain medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, can irritate the esophageal lining and worsen acid reflux.
  • Hiatus hernia: A hiatus hernia, where part of the stomach protrudes into the chest cavity, can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter, leading to acid reflux.
  • Stomach ulcer: Ulcers in the stomach can cause acid reflux symptoms due to increased acidity and irritation.
  • Bacterial infection: Infections such as Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) in the stomach can contribute to GERD by increasing stomach acid production and causing inflammation.

5 Tips to Protect Your Teeth from Acid Reflux

If you’re dealing with acid reflux, the last thing you want is to worry about your teeth, too. Thankfully, there are some things you can do. 

1. Good Dental Care

Regular dental checkups and consistent oral hygiene practices are essential for protecting teeth from the effects of acid reflux. Dentists can detect early signs of enamel erosion and provide preventive treatments such as fluoride application or dental sealants to strengthen teeth against acid exposure. 

Also, maintaining good oral hygiene habits, including brushing teeth twice daily with fluoride toothpaste and flossing daily, helps remove plaque and bacteria contributing to dental decay and gum disease.

2. Avoid brushing your teeth immediately after an acidic meal.

Speaking of brushing your teeth, brushing your teeth immediately after consuming acidic foods or beverages can exacerbate enamel erosion. Acid softens tooth enamel, and brushing immediately can lead to further erosion, as the abrasive action of brushing can wear away the softened enamel. Instead, wait at least 30 minutes after eating acidic foods before brushing. During this time, saliva neutralizes acids and remineralizes enamel, making it less susceptible to damage. 

3. Review your diet.

We’ve all heard the term, we are what we eat. And when it comes to acid reflux, there is some truth to that. Making dietary choices that minimize acid reflux can significantly reduce the risk of tooth enamel erosion. Avoiding acidic or trigger foods like citrus fruits, tomatoes, spicy foods, and carbonated beverages helps decrease the acidity in the stomach, thereby reducing the likelihood of acid reflux episodes that can harm tooth enamel.

4. Drink through a straw.

While we recommend minimizing the consumption of acidic drinks in general, drinking those beverages through a straw can help protect teeth from acid erosion. Over time, acidic drinks like citrus juices and sodas can weaken tooth enamel. By using a straw, you can direct these beverages to the back of the mouth, minimizing contact with the teeth and reducing the risk of enamel erosion. 

5. Chew only sugar-free gum.

Chewing gum is a great way to prevent the intake of excess calories, and can also help settle nervous habits (making it a better choice than smoking, drinking, etc.). However, the sugar in gum can be harmful to our teeth.

Chewing sugar-free gum instead can stimulate saliva production, which helps neutralize acids in the mouth and wash away food particles and bacteria. Choosing sugar-free gum can help you avoid exposing teeth to additional sugars that contribute to tooth decay. Further, chewing gum after meals, especially acidic ones, can aid in protecting teeth from the harmful effects of acid reflux by promoting saliva flow and maintaining oral pH balance.

Effects of acid reflux on your teeth.

Now that you know some of the things you can do to prevent the harmful effects of Gastroesophageal reflux disease on your teeth, let’s uncover those harmful effects. Repeated exposure to stomach acids in individuals with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can lead to dental erosion, contributing to significant loss of tooth enamel when combined with factors like teeth grinding or clenching (bruxism).

So what is dental erosion? Think of it like this—your teeth are covered in protective enamel. Acid can slowly eat away at that enamel, exposing painful nerve endings and the delicate pulp that lies inside. And the bad news is, you can’t regrow your dental enamel. When it’s gone, it’s gone. This makes you more susceptible to oral health concerns, such as cavities, gum disease, etc.

Treatments for acid reflux.

If you have or suspect you have acid reflux, it’s time to request an appointment with your family doctor. Your physician will most likely suggest that you make some lifestyle and dietary changes, such as quitting smoking and avoiding acidic foods and beverages. You may also be prescribed some medications, such as:

  • Esomeprazole (marketed as Nexium)
  • Lansoprazole (sold under the brand name Prevacid)

And in extreme cases, surgery might be suggested.

Dealing with acid reflux? Don’t forego your dental visits.

If you are suffering from acid reflux, partnering with your physician and the family dental team in Greenville, South Carolina, is the best course of action. Together, we can help guide you through lifestyle changes, medication needs, and good oral care to protect your teeth for the longer term.

Request an appointment today to discuss your GERD issues with Dr. Monroe at Monroe Family Dentistry. 

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