How Acid Reflux Damages Tooth Enamel

Most of us have felt acid reflux at some point in our lives. Maybe we just indulged in a delicious but greasy burger or a particularly spicy bowl of curry. At first, all seemed well, that is until up rose that familiar heartburn sensation coupled with a bitter-tasting burp easily recognized as stomach acid.

Acid reflux isn’t pleasant; unfortunately, it’s also a  fairly common problem for many adults in the US. For 35% of the population, reflux is somewhat rare, occurring about once a month or less. But for an unfortunate 20% of adults, acid reflux is a frequent visitor in their lives.

Let’s take a closer look at what acid reflux is and how your dentist can help.

What causes acid reflux and what are the other symptoms?

Acid reflux occurs when the sphincter muscle located at the entrance of your stomach malfunctions. This muscle is like a valve; normally, when food enters your stomach, the valve closes as you digest. If this doesn’t happen, the acid in your stomach travels upward into your esophagus, resulting in what you experience as acid reflux and heartburn.

Chronic acid reflux is also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Of the 20% of people with GERD, roughly 7% cite that reflux attacks are something they experience at least once a day, sometimes as frequently as every meal.

Although GERD is often thought of as something only middle-aged adults experience, this isn’t entirely true. Adults over 40 are significantly more likely to develop GERD or experience acid reflux, but this condition can also affect children and infants.

In adults, GERD and acid reflux often present with symptoms like:

  • Heartburn and general chest pain, sometimes coughing.
  • Chest pressure with an urge to burp, even if you can’t.
  • Regurgitation of food (not necessarily vomiting).
  • Trouble swallowing, as if the food gets caught in your throat.
  • Sore throat and raspy voice, often with halitosis.

For infants and children, the symptoms can be a little different.

Babies, toddlers, and non-verbal children may cry after eating or seem reluctant to eat, despite being hungry. Frequent vomiting, trouble sleeping, or waking up coughing are other common symptoms. Children who can verbalize their symptoms may say their mouth tastes bad or sour and that their chest hurts or burns after they eat.

What if I suspect I, or a family member, has reflux or GERD?

First, it’s important to inform your doctor and dentist of your symptoms. Both healthcare professionals play vital roles in helping you treat or manage your condition.

Your doctor will be the one to evaluate your symptoms, confirm a diagnosis, and assess the root causes of your frequent acid reflux. They’ll offer valuable guidance on helpful dietary changes, suggest appropriate medication, or refer you to a specialist for a scope or other testing if you have severe GERD symptoms.

Dentists quickly notice enamel erosion and soft tissue damage synonymous with untreated chronic reflux but cannot make an official diagnosis. If Dr. Monroe does spot these types of problems, he may ask you about your symptoms and strongly recommend you follow up with your GP for the care discussed above.

After a diagnosis and treatment plan has been established with your GP, Dr. Monroe can then move forward with treating the oral implications of GERD or frequent acid reflux.

How can a dentist help me treat dental damage from reflux?

Repairing teeth affected by acid reflux is similar to treating cavities and other enamel issues. Restorations like dental crowns are a popular solution since they’ll completely envelop the vulnerable tooth in porcelain or a metal alloy. Traditionally cosmetic procedures, like dental bonding and porcelain veneers, are also sometimes used to protect teeth while also enhancing their aesthetic appeal.

If you’ve been diagnosed with GERD or experience frequent reflux, it’s imperative to take your oral hygiene routine very seriously. Dr. Monroe can also offer recommendations on oral care products designed to strengthen tooth enamel and maintain a healthy pH level in your mouth.

In addition to taking great care of your smile at home, be sure to see your dentist every six months for a checkup and cleaning because you have a greater risk of enamel erosion, cavities, and periodontal disease. You can also ask Dr. Monroe about myofunctional therapy as another means of improving your acid reflux symptoms.

Learn more about acid reflux and its impact on oral health.

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with frequent acid reflux or GERD, don’t wait to speak with Dr. Monroe about your health. Schedule a consultation to discuss your symptoms and protect your oral health by calling our Greenville, SC, office or booking an appointment online.