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The Link Between Heartburn and Oral Health

If you have chronic heartburn, it's not only your esophagus that you should be worried about. Research shows that the condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, can have a detrimental effect on your oral health, as well. 

Raleigh dentist Jeff Morrison, of Jeff M. Morrison & Assoc., DDS, knows the damage that chronic heartburn can do to your teeth. Here are his three top concerns for patients with GERD:

Eroding Tooth Enamel

GERD causes chronic heartburn because stomach contents, including acid, leak into the esophagus and work their way back up into the mouth, causing burning pain. The acid from the stomach is strong enough to dissolve the tooth surface, or enamel, directly, or soften it to the point where it is quickly worn down layer by layer. This can lead to thin, sharp and pitted teeth, and a greater chance of decay.

Xerostomia or Dry Mouth

Some medications prescribed to treat GERD – such as Omeprazole (also called Prilosec), are known to cause dry mouth or xerostomia.  Saliva is one of the body's defense mechanisms - it protects your teeth by neutralizing stomach acid and reducing damage to your teeth.  Reducing saliva flow increases the chance of developing dental decay, tooth sensitivity, and oral infections.  

Stress and Teeth Grinding

A major contributor to GERD is stress. The stress that's causing your heartburn can also cause you to grind your teeth (also called bruxism) resulting a great deal of wear and tear on your teeth. Patients who grind their teeth can develop temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD), leading to jaw, ear and head pain.  Also, people with heartburn or GERD have a much higher risk of xerostomia, or dry mouth. This lack of lubrication, paired with acid-roughened tooth surfaces, increase the risk of wear and tear on the teeth.

The Importance of Regular Dental Visits

Routine dental care is especially important for people with GERD as it allows your dentist to monitor any changes - such as damage to your tooth enamel. "Patients with GERD usually don't realize their teeth have changed until we point out the damage at their regular check-up" notes Dr. Morrison. “Once the outer coating of the teeth is gone, it's gone for good,” but, he adds, “with early intervention, we can take steps to prevent more damage.”

Further, not everyone realizes they have acid reflux - you may have no symptoms, or you may experience very minor symptoms such as a slight cough.  Dr. Morrison notes, “for most of our patients, we’re the healthcare professional they see on a regular basis. It’s only when we point out the damage to their teeth – and suggest they see their primary care physician to find the cause – do they seek treatment."

For patients with GERD or acid reflux, Dr. Morrison may recommend dietary changes, chewing sugar-free gum between meals to boost saliva production and reduce acid in the mouth, and oral hygiene products to prevent further loss of enamel. Patients experiencing bruxism may benefit from a custom made oral appliance. If your teeth are damaged, Dr. Morrison will discuss dental procedures such as veneers, fillings and crowns which can strengthen your teeth and restore your smile.

Dr. Morrison received his dental degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has a family and cosmetic dental practice in the beautiful city of Raleigh, North Carolina. Are you looking for a dental practice for you and your family? We are always taking new patients. Give us a call at (919) 755-3450 or schedule and appointment online.