If you suffer from chronic heartburn, new research indicates that you should not only be concerned about your esophagus, but your teeth as well. The condition, gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD, occurs when the acidic contents of the stomach escape into the esophagus, often leading into the mouth, causing burning pain. The study, described in the MSN Health article, “Acid Reflux From Chronic Heartburn May Damage Teeth,” followed patients suffering from the condition over a six month period and found over half had much worse tooth wear and erosion than their healthy counterparts. Dr. Daranee Tantbirojn, associate professor at the University of Tennessee and study lead author says that most dental professionals are aware of this situation, but their goal is to raise awareness among the public, considering the disease is very common.
Tooth erosion is normal in all mouths, due to chewing, says Tantbirojn, however approximately half of those studied experienced erosion several times higher than those without the disease. In the study, researchers used an optical scanner to measure the effects that heartburn had on the teeth of 12 patients. Several of the patients who experienced this rapid erosion claim that they are currently taking medication for their condition, but still have reflux episodes. Dr. David Leader, associate clinical professor at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, states that once the outer coating of teeth, or enamel, is gone, it’s gone for good. He notes that the only thing to do is wait for the erosion to get bad enough for treatment, which could include a filling, veneer, or crown.
The prognosis seems bleak, but Tantbirojn believes there are preventative measures that can be taken. Saliva acts as a buffer as it has the ability to neutralize acid, but it’s obviously not enough to keep erosion from happening. To maximize the benefits though, Tantbirojn recommends that you don’t brush immediately after an acid reflux episode, but using a fluoride rinse may help. There is also special toothpaste for acid reflux sufferers that can be prescribed by a dentist, as well has taking baking soda or antacids after experiencing reflux to protect the teeth. Another way to reduce acid in the mouth is to chew Xylitol gum, according to Leader. And as always, be sure to visit your dentist regularly to stay ahead of any and all dental issues.