Do you maintain good oral care and hygiene yet are still experiencing dental problems? If so, then your worsening oral health could be the result of acid reflux or GORD/GERD (gastro-oesophageal reflux disease). Both of these conditions are quite common in adults and teens with 20% of Australians regularly experiencing the condition.
Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid enters the oesophagus or food pipe. Experiencing reflux or heartburn more than two times a week may indicate that you have GORD – and may significantly impact on your oral health. While heartburn is the most well known symptom of reflux, it actually accounts for only 10% of cases. Other symptoms of reflux may include sore throat, chronic coughing & throat clearing, swallowing difficulty and choking.
How does reflux damage your teeth?
Daytime reflux is usually well managed because you are conscious of the discomfort or irritation and can take steps to eliminate symptoms. However, nocturnal reflux is the most damaging occurrence of this condition because it happens while you are asleep.
During the night, stomach acid can slowly leak into and move up the oesophagus, remaining there for a few hours. Over this time, hydrochloric acid and stomach enzymes – such as pepsin – can start damaging your teeth and other oral structures.
What are the oral symptoms of acid reflux?
The oral symptoms of reflux or GORD may include:
- Constant sensitive teeth, gums and tongue
- Chronic sore or irritated throat
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- Discomfort, irritation or pain when swallowing
- Excessive salivation
- Chronic & out-of-control tooth decay
- ‘Chalky’ tooth enamel caused by demineralisation & erosion
Lifestyle changes to reduce reflux symptoms
In addition to advice and treatment (e.g. antacids) from your doctor, making changes to your lifestyle can help reduce the symptoms of reflux in your oral cavity including:
- No night snacks. Do not eat after your early evening meal or at least 4 hours before sleep
- Sleep with your head raised higher than your body by 20cm (on a medium pillow)
- Have a night walk after dinner and/or delay lying down immediately after eating
- Avoid acidic soft drinks, fatty foods and other foods that seem to trigger acid reflux
- Drink alkaline water with a high pH (9-10) to neutralise the stomach enzyme pepsin which is the main cause of oesophageal damage
- Lose weight for more relief
- Stop smoking and drinking alcohol (especially in the evenings)
- Avoid eating before strenuous exercise