We all know that uncomfortable feeling of heartburn, whether it’s from a fatty burger or other foods that can trigger the reaction. It can be annoying to deal with once in a while, but if you’ve been getting heartburn regularly, it can lead to serious health complications – including, surprisingly, in your mouth. Here’s what you need to know about acid reflux and how it could affect your oral health.
What is Acid Reflux?
Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid is allowed to flow up the esophagus. This often causes a burning sensation known as heartburn (although it doesn’t directly affect the heart) because while the stomach has a special lining to protect it from its own acid, the esophagus does not. If acid reflux happens frequently, it’s referred to as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). Sometimes acid reflux and GERD occur without causing noticeable pain, but that doesn’t mean that damage isn’t being done.
How Can Acid Reflux Affect My Oral Health?
Stomach acid that travels up through the esophagus can reach your mouth where it can get on the teeth and eat away at the enamel, causing tooth erosion. It’s especially an issue while sleeping when you’re swallowing less often and producing less saliva. The acid can also cause gum inflammation, which can lead to severe gum disease and bone loss.
It should be noted that it’s not just your oral health affected by acid reflux. It can also damage your esophagus and make swallowing painful and difficult; additionally, you will be at greater risk for esophageal cancer.
How Can I Tell if I Have Acid Reflux?
In cases of acid reflux and GERD where there’s no noticeable pain, your dentist may be the first to see the signs during a regular check-up. The first clue is often erosion of the enamel on the molars or on the back side of your teeth, which can indicate that the source of the damage is coming from the back of the mouth. Other symptoms may include sinus infection, coughing, hoarseness and bad breath.
How Can I Protect Myself From Acid Reflux?
You can reduce the risk of acid reflux by eating smaller meals and avoiding fatty foods, spicy foods, chocolate, acidic fruits and other known triggers for the condition. Not everyone is affected the same by these foods, so be sure to keep track of which ones you have a reaction to. You should also avoid lying down right after eating; gravity plays a role in keeping your stomach acids from going into the esophagus.
If you’re found to be suffering from GERD, you may be directed towards some over-the-counter medicines or receive a prescription. Be sure to follow instructions for the medicine as well as changes to your lifestyle. Remember, sugary foods aren’t the only thing that can damage your smile; protect your teeth by protecting your whole body.
About the Author
In the past, Dr. Daniel Weldon has served as the president of the Marion County Dental Association; he is currently a member of the Andrew J. Semesco Foundation, which funds research for oral, head and neck cancer. At his practice, Weldon General and Cosmetic Dentistry, he provides a wide variety of preventive dentistry services. To schedule an appointment, visit his website or call (352) 622-3236.