• 12 DEC 18
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    How Gastric Reflux Affects Dental Health

    How Gastric Reflux Affects Dental Health

    What’s the top thing you think of when you hear the words “gastric reflux?” Probably heartburn, right? But, as it turns out, you should probably be taking a closer look at your teeth.

    Retired dentist Gloria Alban, DDS, RHN awoke one morning and noticed an acidic, sour taste in her mouth. After taking antacids, meeting with her doctor, and searching for answers online, Dr. Alban quickly discovered the reason her tongue and gums felt raw, and why her teeth had become overly sensitive; her recently diagnosed gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) had started to erode the enamel of her teeth. This phenomenon was recently covered in the International Journal of Dentistry in an article entitled “Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease and Tooth Erosion” but it is more common than most realize.

    Most of us associate heartburn with acid reflux, but it heartburn only shows up in roughly 10% of gastric reflux cases. As Dr. Alban discovered, the first symptoms of gastric reflux typically appear in the mouth (which is one more reason to schedule regular checkups). Before we dive into how gastric reflux affects oral health, it may be useful to explain what gastric reflux is and what it is not.

    What is Gastric Reflux?

    Over half of adults will experience some degree of gastric reflux at least once in their life. Although it is more common in older individuals, it does show up in some children and young adults — especially those with highly acidic and/or fatty diets.

    Some mistakenly believe that indigestion is the cause of gastric reflux, but chronic indigestion is actually a symptom of an underlying condition, most commonly gastric reflux, although it can also indicate a gallbladder disorder or ulcer.

    Some of the signs of gastric reflux include:

    • Chalky film on the teeth
    • Sinus infections
    • Bad breath (halitosis)
    • Sour, acidic taste
    • Indigestion (dyspepsia)
    • Hoarseness
    • Difficulty swallowing
    • Heartburn (burning sensation in the esophagus)

    How Gastric Reflux Affects Your Oral Health

    With a pH of 1 to 3, the digestive enzymes in your stomach are highly acidic and strong enough to dissolve metals. Your stomach lining has a protective lining composed up of epithelial cells. These cells secrete a mucosa-protecting solution of bicarbonates, neutralizing the acids in the stomach. But, your esophagus, throat, gums, and teeth do not have this same level of protection. So, while this high acidity is beneficial to digestion, as Dr. Alban painfully discovered, gastric reflux can be a great detriment to your oral health, causing issues such as:

    • Loss of tooth enamel — Calcium is a key element of tooth enamel. Since calcium is slightly basic, the strength of stomach acids quickly erodes the calcium in your teeth.
    • Cavities — As the enamel is the protective layer of the teeth, once erosion of the enamel sets in, cavities can quickly form.
    • Gum sensitivity — Stomach acids can inflame the gums, leading to infections and sensitivities.

    A Word of Caution on Gastric Reflux Medications

    Your gastric reflux treatment may include medications that can cause the mouth to dry out, a condition known as “xerostomia.” Keeping the mouth moist is important to preventing xerostomia-related complications, such as dry sockets and cavities. If you are taking medications for gastric reflux, let your dentist know so they may recommend a product or treatment to counteract dry mouth.

    If you are concerned about how gastric reflux may be affecting your oral health, contact Eve Dental to schedule an appointment.

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