Acid Reflux and Your Teeth
“Oh it's just heartburn”
If doctors had a dollar for every time their patients made this very common misconception, they may never have to work again!
If you've ever experienced a painful burning sensation radiating from inside your chest, you're not alone! Even I have had the discomfort after a very spicy, but very worth it, Mexican meal. While heartburn may be more common than you would expect, it is certainly not the highlight of your day.
Persistent symptoms, more than twice weekly, may be a sign of acid reflux (officially Gastroesophogeal Reflux Disease, or GERD). However, not everyone with GERD suffers from heartburn (and vice versa). In fact, you may have GERD and not even know it.
Acid reflux is caused when the throat muscle, which separates the stomach from the food canal, allows acid to seep out of the stomach and into the throat. Many times this acid causes heartburn, but not always. In the absence of heartburn symptoms, sometimes the first indication that an individual suffers from GERD is the erosion of the hard enamel surface covering the back teeth or molars.
Stomach acid is a very strong acid that can eat away at the enamel on your teeth. Your dentist may be the first to notice symptoms of the disease when he or she detects enamel loss.
If detected, your dentist may refer you to a specialist, who may prescribe treatment or recommend lifestyle changes, such as avoiding acidic foods.
Left untreated, GERD can do long-term damage to your body. Loss of enamel is permanent, and if left unchecked, may lead to the rapid decay of affected teeth. Prolonged exposure to stomach acid can irritate and inflame your esophagus and may even lead to esophageal cancer.1
These risks are why getting a regular oral exam from a dentist is so important–your dentist may find early symptoms of a potentially serious problem such as GERD. In fact, more than 120 systemic diseases have oral manifestations that may be detected during an oral exam2. These include diabetes, leukemia, cancer, heart disease, kidney disease and stroke.
Be safe and make the right choice: become friends with your dentist!
1American Cancer Society “Suffering from Heartburn? Severe Heartburn Could Be Esophageal Cancer Risk Factor”
2. Academy of General Dentistry’s Know Your Teeth, October 2008.
Photo Credit: Viamedical.com