Many medical conditions can have serious repercussions on oral health that are beyond a patient’s ability to address through proper oral hygiene alone. One such condition is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which has the potential to permanently damage tooth enamel without proper medical and dental treatment.
GERD is a disorder that affects the ring of muscle between the esophagus and stomach. This sphincter normally closes tightly after a person swallows to prevent the contents of the stomach, which include powerful acids that break down food, from backing up into the throat. When this muscle is weak, acids rise into the throat or even the mouth. Frequent heartburn is one common symptom of GERD.
Erosion of dental enamel is frequently a problem in GERD patients. This erosion is seen on the palate and tongue surfaces of the teeth where the enamel is exposed to the regurgitated contents of the stomach. Stomach (hydrochloric) acid is very powerful, and can easily demineralize enamel in even small concentrations. In addition, GERD is frequently associated with dry mouth, either as a symptom of the disorder itself or as a side effect of medications meant to control it. The absence of sufficient saliva not only allows acid to remain in contact with teeth longer, but it also allows dental bacteria to flourish, leading to plaque and decay.
Patients may feel frustrated or ashamed that tooth damage occurs despite their best efforts to maintain good oral hygiene. In fact, this damage is not their fault. The dental effects of GERD are difficult to address without further weakening already damaged teeth, and the best course is to consult an expert. A knowledgeable dental professional can advise on proper self-care therapies, administer professional treatments to help prevent further damage, or recommend alternatives to replace failing teeth.
However, properly addressing GERD requires both expert medical and dental advice. Only by addressing the cause of the disorder as well as the symptoms can patients prevent more serious damage to both their overall health and dental health. If a patient’s GERD is part of a workers’ compensation claim, the dental effects should be addressed as part of that claim.
If your teeth have been damaged by GERD, you should consult a dentist as soon as possible. To schedule a consultation with Dr. Hale, please call 818-999-0900 or fill out our online form below.