Reflux (GERD) & Dental Erosion

Stomach upsets can affect your dental health by gradually wearing away the protective enamel of your teeth. Known as tooth erosion, the appearance and colour of your teeth can be affected by the increase in acid in your mouth caused by the digestive system.

Acid reflux or Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) happens when the upper digestive causes stomach contents to flow back into the oesophagus or even the mouth. Whilst the typical response to GERD is heartburn, occasionally it can also impact oral hygiene and cause dental erosion. In many cases where GERD is a cause of dental erosion, it is only apparent during a routine dental examination.

For people who don’t suffer from GERD, their saliva efficiently rebalances the acid levels in the mouth and lowers the pH level to make the teeth less susceptible to erosion. However, in people that suffer from GERD, gastric acid reaches the mouth throughout the day, making it harder for saliva to keep pH levels low. Constant acidity in the mouth can be especially damaging whilst you are asleep as you produce less saliva at night and swallow less.

Whilst there are medicines to address GERD or acid reflux, the side effect of some can cause dry mouth, essentially limiting or completely removing the ability to produce saliva. Saliva not only helps neutralise acids in the mouth but also washes away food particles and reduces bacteria that attack the tooth enamel. Therefore, it is important to drink enough water throughout the day and after eating when there is a lack of saliva. Speak to your doctor if this is a concern.

What Does Reflux Do to My Teeth?

The acid can wear away the enamel of your teeth. Tooth erosion is permanent and if your enamel has started to wear away, you may experience sensitivity to hot and cold food and drinks, or your teeth may begin to become discoloured.

In severe cases, tooth loss can occur, or an abscess can form requiring immediate dental treatment.

If your dentist notices unusual signs or dental erosion, they may suggest that you make an appointment to speak with your GP. Although changing what you eat and drink can help when suffering from acute GERD, unfortunately, dietary and lifestyle modifications are not sufficient to bring chronic GERD under control. As a result, people that suffer from chronic GERD and so are more susceptible to the side effects of dental erosion may need to be prescribed medication to help reduce their stomach acid level.

Steps to Avoid Dental Erosion:

  • Clean and floss your teeth twice a day.
  • Chewing gum can encourage saliva production.
  • Fluoride and desensitising kinds of toothpaste may help strengthen tooth enamel.
  • Drinking water regularly and after a meal can help reduce the acid in your mouth by up to 60%.
  • Avoid alcohol and smoking.
  • Avoid acidic drinks or holding them in your mouth for too long.
  • Refrain from eating three hours before bed.
  • Speak with your GP about a care plan to address acid reflux and any underlying issues.
  • See your dentist regularly to ensure the effects of acid reflux or GERD on your oral health are minimal.

If you have any concerns about your dental erosion associated with acid reflux or GERD, speak to your dentist. If you would like a second opinion at Western Prosthodontic Centre, call us on (08) 9321 1632 or contact us online.