Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a common digestive disorder affecting about 20% of Americans. GERD, or acid reflux, occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, causing unpleasant symptoms such as heartburn, regurgitation, and difficulty swallowing.
Acid reflux symptoms are bothersome on their own, but they can also damage your teeth.
In this blog, Dr. David Blaustein and our team here at Chelsea Dental Aesthetics in New York City explore the link between acid reflux and dental health and offer tips on protecting your teeth from the harmful effects of acid reflux.
How acid reflux happens
Acid reflux results when the ring of muscle (lower esophageal sphincter) that separates the stomach from the esophagus fails to close properly, allowing stomach acid to flow back up (reflux) into the esophagus.
Obesity, pregnancy, delayed stomach emptying, scleroderma, and hiatal hernias are risk factors for acid reflux.
How acid reflux affects your teeth
While the effects of acid reflux on the digestive system are well-known, the impact on dental health is often overlooked. When stomach acid enters your mouth, it can erode tooth enamel, the hard outer layer that protects your teeth from damage.
Enamel is the hardest substance in your body, but erosion can lead to several dental problems, including:
- Increased tooth sensitivity
- Tooth discoloration
- Tooth decay
- Gum disease
- Tooth loss (from severe periodontitis)
Acid reflux can also cause bad breath.
Protecting your teeth from acid reflux
If you have acid reflux, there are steps you can take to protect your teeth:
Practice good oral hygiene
Need to refresh your at-home oral hygiene routine? Here are a few tips to get started:
- Brush your teeth twice daily with fluoride toothpaste
- Use a soft-bristled brush
- Hold your brush at a 45-degree angle along your gums
- Brush your tongue and/or use a tongue scraper
- Floss at least once a day
- Use mouthwash
A good oral care routine removes plaque and food particles from your teeth. That prevents decay and gum disease and washes away acid from your mouth.
Rinse your mouth with water
After an episode of acid reflux, rinse your mouth with water to help neutralize the acid and wash it away from your teeth. Rinsing can also help remove the bad taste from your mouth.
Wait to brush your teeth
While it may be tempting to brush your teeth immediately after an episode of acid reflux, it's best to wait at least 30 minutes. Brushing too soon can spread the acid around your mouth and cause further damage to your teeth. Instead, rinse your mouth with water and wait to brush.
This tip also applies when you eat acidic foods.
Modify your lifestyle
Managing acid reflux can help reduce your symptoms and protect your teeth. Strategies include:
- Take any medication, over-the-counter or prescription, as directed
- Sleep on your left side
- Don’t eat right before bed
- Treat sleep apnea (it can make acid reflux worse)
- Avoid dietary triggers, such as alcohol, spicy foods, or greasy foods
Research shows 12.2% of people with acid reflux also have sleep apnea. Sleeping on your back can exacerbate both conditions.
Talk to us
If you suffer from acid reflux symptoms, let us know. We can offer specific advice on protecting your teeth from acid erosion and may recommend fluoride treatments or other preventive measures.
If your enamel is already damaged, we can recommend treatments to fortify your teeth. If you also struggle with sleep apnea, we offer oral appliance therapy.
Ready to give us a ring? Call our office, located conveniently in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, or schedule your appointment online.