How Acid Reflux Affects the Mouth
Acid reflux is a condition that affects millions of Americans, both adults and children. Also referred to as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), acid reflux allows stomach acid to escape from the stomach, creeping up into both the esophagus and the mouth.
Acid reflux is a case of a broken one-way “door”. There is a “door”, called a sphincter, between the esophagus and the stomach. It should only go one way, allowing the contents of the esophagus into the stomach, but preventing anything in the stomach from going backwards (upward) into the esophagus. In acid reflux, this sphincter does not do its job well, so acid seeps out of the stomach, going the wrong way.
Why is Stomach Acid Bad for the Mouth?
Remember your pH scale from middle school science class? On this scale of 0 to 14, the lower the number is, the more acidic, and the higher a number is, the more basic or alkaline. Neutral is at pH 7.0. A healthy mouth ranges from 7.5-8.5, so it should be slightly basic or alkaline. This pH is maintained by an adequate amount of healthy saliva.
Stomach acid, by contrast, falls between 1 and 3 on the pH scale, making it an extremely strong acid. For comparison’s sake, consider that battery acid is also about 1 on the pH scale. It is dangerous!
Inside the stomach, this acid is a good thing. It is an important part of the digestive process, breaking down food and releasing important nutrients. Outside the stomach, it is harmful.
Stomach acid has an erosive effect on both hard and soft tissues. The pain of “heartburn” is the result of irritation of the lining of the esophagus by this strong acid. Only the lining of the stomach is tough enough to withstand stomach acid!
What Symptoms in the Mouth Result from Acid Reflux?
Many people mistakenly assume that acid reflux stops in the esophagus. Unfortunately, it does not. The acid easily makes it up into the mouth and causes a lot of damage. Not everyone who has acid reflux experiences heartburn. For this reason, there are some cases in which your dentist is the first one to notice that you could have a problem by what he sees in your mouth!
Just as stomach acid irritates the lining tissue of the esophagus, it can also irritate the soft tissue lining the inside of the mouth. This can cause a general tenderness or soreness inside the mouth, a burning or tingling on the tongue, and a sore throat.
Most notable, to a dentist anyway, is acid erosion on the teeth. Enamel is the protective coating of our teeth. It is the hardest substance in the body, and it only has one major enemy: ACID. Acid weakens, softens and etches enamel in the same way it can etch glass.
Tooth enamel begins softening at a pH lower than 5.5. Stomach acid is far lower than that. In people with acid reflux, the overall pH of the mouth consistently falls below that threshold, thus putting the teeth at constant risk for erosion. Not only does the acid itself wear away enamel via erosion; it also makes the environment more conducive to cavity-causing bacteria. Patients with acid reflux have a much higher cavity risk than someone without.
Many patients with chronic acid reflux take prescription medication to manage it. The problem with these medications is that most of them cause dry mouth as a side effect. A dry mouth means your body is not producing enough saliva. Remember that saliva is a good thing and our body’s defense against acid. Without it, the teeth and tissues are even more susceptible to damage from acid.
What Can I Do to Protect my Mouth if I Have Acid Reflux?
There are several important steps you must take if you suffer from consistent acid reflux! Following these tips will protect your teeth and save you money.
Never miss a dental visit!
Dr. Chowning can catch the early signs of enamel erosion and help guide you into the necessary changes to stop it in its tracks. He and his wonderful dental hygienists will help you prevent further damage and lower your cavity risk.
Work with your medical doctor and a nutritionist if necessary to reduce your acid reflux.
We can fight the acid in the mouth, but preventing the reflux is a much better tactic. Commit to making any dietary changes and taking prescribed medications as needed to control the acid reflux itself.
Avoid acidic beverages, like sodas, sports drinks, alcohol, and coffee.
Your mouth is acidic enough. Don’t make it worse by adding acidic drinks! Drink water only, or even better, alkaline water. This will help neutralize the pH of your mouth.
Chew sugar-free gum between meals to stimulate saliva.
Chewing flavored gum causes your body to naturally produce saliva, which is our best defense against any kind of acid in the mouth. Make sure it is sugar-free, though! Otherwise, you could actually increase your cavity risk.
Consider professional fluoride treatments at your dental visits.
These high-powered fluoride treatments are scientifically proven to strengthen and harden enamel, making it more resistant to the attacks of acid.
Do You or a Loved One Suffer from Acid Reflux?
Call 940-382-1750 today to schedule your visit with Dr. Chowning. He will help you address any oral concerns that result from acid reflux, protecting your teeth for a lifetime!