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GERD: What Is It and How You Can Protect Your Oral Care

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GERD stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease. If you’ve been diagnosed with this disorder, it means that the contents of your stomach end up moving back up your esophagus because the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) doesn’t close like it should.

In addition to causing uncomfortable heartburn—those stomach contents include acidic juices that should remain in your digestive tract—GERD can get pretty gross if you actually taste the stomach fluid when it reaches the mouth. Plus, over time, this condition could lead to other problems, such as esophageal cancer or ulcers. Yikes! For this article, though, we’ll focus on the oral health issues that may be the result of gastroesophageal reflux disease.

GERD Can Wreak Havoc in Your Mouth!

Dental erosion is one of the oral health problems that can be caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease. Basically, the acidic stomach contents make their way into the mouth and cause the enamel of the teeth to break down and dissolve.

The scary part is that the enamel that ends up eroding can’t be brought back naturally. In other words, this damage is irreversible. And because enamel, which is the hard outer layer of your teeth, provides protection, losing it could make your chompers increasingly vulnerable to things like cavities and sensitivity.

What’s worse: GERD can even do damage when you’re asleep! You won’t realize it while you’re in dreamland, but those gastric acids could invade your mouth, basically covering your molars and eating away at them. The fact that you don’t produce as much saliva and you don’t swallow as much while you sleep only makes the situation even more destructive.

Here Are Some Ways to Protect Your Pearly Whites

If you suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease, there are some things that you can do to protect your teeth, as well as reduce your symptoms overall:

  • When you’re experiencing reflux, it isn’t a good idea to brush your teeth right away, as doing so may cause even more damage to your enamel. Instead, you can help reduce and neutralize acid in the mouth by chewing on some sugar-free gum to stimulate the production of saliva. You can even rinse your mouth with some pure water or a mix of baking soda and water. And, when you brush and rinse your mouth, using products that contain fluoride might be beneficial as well.  
  • Change your eating habits by having smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. For example, you might have five small meals, rather than three large meals. Also, avoid eating at least two to three hours before bedtime.
  • Speaking of bedtime, you could even try elevating your head and chest above your stomach while you rest so that gravity can help keep the stomach acid down.
  • Keep track of what foods and drinks trigger your GERD symptoms. Some of the usual culprits include tomato products, garlic, onions, spicy food, chocolate, citrus fruit and juice, fatty foods, peppermint, and fried foods. Carbonated beverages, coffee, tea, and alcohol can also be triggers.
  • Make healthy lifestyle changes. Losing some weight if you’re overweight or obese might make a difference by relieving pressure on the stomach. And did you know that smoking could trigger symptoms? Another reason to quit!
  • Certain prescription medications might cause GERD as a side effect, so it’s a great idea to talk to your doctor. And when it comes to over-the-counter meds, consider sticking with acetaminophen, as other products, such as naproxen, aspirin, and ibuprofen may make your symptoms worse.

Your Dentist Might Notice GERD Symptoms Before You Do!

Some people don’t even know that they’re experiencing gastroesophageal reflux disease until they head to the dentist to have their mouth examined. A dental pro can identify signs of enamel erosion and talk to you about GERD, including what steps you can take to prevent further damage. Plus, your dentist might be able to provide treatments that may help protect your teeth, such as tooth bonding, veneers, or a crown.  

Pro tip:with an affordable dental insurance plan, you never have to worry about missing an important appointment with your dentist!

In addition to working with your dentist to keep your whole mouth clean and healthy, you can also talk to your doctor about what you could do to treat GERD and stop symptoms before they can cause harm.

Sure, gastroesophageal reflux disease can be damaging, but there’s hope. Changing your lifestyle and eating habits, talking to your physician about treatment options, and working with your dentist to protect your smile can help you regain control. 

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