February 09, 2016 6 min read

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 straightforward 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.

Acid reflux is most often the result of a malfunction of a clump of muscles known as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES separates the stomach from the esophagus—food passes through it on the way down, and the LES seals shut after food enters the stomach to prevent acidic stomach contents from refluxing back into the esophagus. However, sometimes the LES fails and stomach acid leaks into the esophagus, which can cause issues like nausea and heartburn

If you experience acid reflux on a regular basis, then you may suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). In addition to causing digestive issues, GERD symptoms can also negatively affect your dental health and lead to tooth decay. 

In this article, we’ll talk about how tooth erosion can be caused by GERD, and review some ways in which you can protect your teeth against the harmful effects of acid reflux. For all of the details, keep on reading. Or, to skip to a section that most interests you, click on one of the links below:

How Does Acid Reflux Affect Your Teeth? 

GERD is a very common digestive disorder that is estimated to affect about 20% of people in the United States. And, while many GERD sufferers are aware of the health consequences caused by exposure to stomach acid in the esophagus, damage within the mouth is a lesser known problem that’s starting to gain more attention.

A clinical study that followed patients over a six-month period measured tooth surface loss associated with GERD, 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 to a degree 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.

Seeing a Dentist to Diagnose Acid Reflux Tooth Erosion

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.

How to Prevent Acid Reflux Tooth Erosion?

There are a number of steps you can take to prevent acid reflux from inflicting further damage to your teeth. Below, we’ve listed our top tips that can help you battle against GERD and keep your teeth in great shape. 

Watch what you eat

Some foods can cause or exacerbate symptoms of acid reflux. And, generally, the more frequently you experience acid reflux episodes, the more severe the implications are for your teeth. To minimize acid reflux, try to avoid the following foods:

  • Fried foods 
  • Fast food
  • Spicy foods
  • Processed snacks 
  • Pizza
  • Potato chips
  • Fatty meat like bacon and sausage
  • Cheese
  • Tomato-based sauces
  • Citrus fruits
  • Chocolate
  • Peppermint
  • Carbonated beverages 

Drink with a straw

You can slow down tooth erosion by preventing liquids from having prolonged contact with your teeth. This is especially true when it comes to acidic drinks and sugary beverages like soda. Drinking through a straw allows you to enjoy the same beverages while stopping them from making direct contact with your teeth. 

Avoid brushing teeth right after eating acidic foods 

If you do eat an acidic meal, it’s best to wait at least an hour before brushing your teeth. Acidic foods have the effect of softening your tooth enamel, and brushing them while the enamel is so sensitive can lead to even more damage. 

Use a toothpaste and mouthwash with fluoride 

Fluoride can work wonders for your teeth. It’s a mineral that can rejuvenate weakened tooth enamel, slow down the decay of healthy enamel, and ultimately help to prevent tooth decay. So, if you suffer from GERD, consider purchasing a toothpaste or mouthwash that contains fluoride to minimize damage to your teeth that may occur as a result of your condition. 

Reduce acid reflux symptoms 

Reducing your acid reflux symptoms can benefit both your dental health and quality of life in general. After all, outside of the tooth erosion it causes, acid reflux is it’s own problem. First off, it can be uncomfortable and induce nausea, heartburn, and regurgitation. Secondly, chronic acid reflux and GERD can lead to more serious health problems, such as esophageal strictures and ulcers, if left untreated. 

So how can you reduce acid reflux symptoms? Here are a few tips:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. When you’re overweight, you place extra pressure on your stomach and this can increase the severity and frequency of acid reflux. Create a healthy lifestyle by following a nutritious diet and exercising regularly. 
  • Eat smaller meals. Overeating fills up your stomach and puts pressure on the LES, which is supposed to prevent stomach acid from entering the esophagus. Too much pressure can cause acidic stomach contents to leak into your esophagus. Thus, try eating smaller meals throughout the day that don’t put as much pressure on your stomach and LES. 
  • Quit smoking. If you’re a smoker, quitting may be able to alleviate your acid reflux symptoms. That’s because smoking can relax the muscles in the LES, making it easier for acid to reflux into your esophagus. 
  • Sleep at an incline. Keeping your upper body at an incline is one of the most effective and natural ways to reduce symptoms of acid reflux while sleeping. With this method, gravity helps to keep your stomach content in your stomach and out of your esophagus. To alleviate symptoms of GERD and stay comfortable at the same time, try out MedCline’s Reflux Relief System—the three-component system keeps you in the doctor-recommended position for acid reflux relief all night long. 
  • Medications and surgery. Talk with your doctor about potential solutions for your acid reflux. Many people have found relief from acid reflux symptoms by taking medications such as antacids and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). If all else fails, GERD surgery may be necessary to provide relief and prevent further gastrointestinal damage. 

Key Takeaways 

If you suffer from GERD, then you may be at a higher risk for tooth damage due to your condition. While you can’t reverse the damage already done to your teeth, you can make changes today that will help put an end to reflux episodes, and subsequently reduce the erosion of your teeth. Follow the tips listed in this article to minimize the impact of acid reflux on your dental health. 

You might start by addressing the symptoms of acid reflux. Maintaining a healthy weight, eating smaller meals, quitting smoking, and taking reflux medication can all help reduce the symptoms of acid reflux. In addition, sleeping on an incline using MedCline’s Reflux Relief System can effectively relieve nighttime acid reflux, helping you feel healthy and refreshed. 

Lastly, it’s always important to stay up-to-date when it comes to your dental health. Visit your dentist every six months for regular care and ask them about ways in which you can prevent tooth erosion caused by acid reflux. Your dentist may be able to give your personalized advice and recommend specific products based on your circumstances. 

 

References:

  1. Clark, Glenn. “What Is Tooth Erosion? Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention.” Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry USC, University of Southern California , 1 Aug. 2019, ostrowon.usc.edu/2019/08/01/tooth-erosion/. 
  2. “Complications of GERD.” Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, www.cheyenneregional.org/service/gastroesophageal-reflux-disease-gerd-treatment/complications/. 
  3. “Definition & Facts for GER & GERD.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1 July 2020, www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/acid-reflux-ger-gerd-adults/definition-facts. 
  4. Dotinga, Randy. “Acid Reflux From Chronic Heartburn May Damage Teeth.” MedicineNet, MedicineNet, 8 Mar. 2012, www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=155719. 
  5. “Fluoride.” MouthHealthy, American Dental Association, www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/f/fluoride. 
  6. Gupta, Ekta. “GERD Diet: Foods That Help with Acid Reflux (Heartburn).” Johns Hopkins Medicine, The Johns Hopkins University, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/gerd-diet-foods-that-help-with-acid-reflux-heartburn. 
  7. Tantbirojn, Daranee, et al. “Quantitative Analysis of Tooth Surface Loss Associated with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease: a Longitudinal Clinical Study.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 1 Mar. 2012, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22383209/.