Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is a physical condition that occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter fails to close properly. This can allow stomach acid to leak back into the esophagus, causing heartburn and other symptoms. Acid reflux is triggered by consuming certain foods and beverages or lying in an incorrect position.
What is acid reflux?
Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid leaks up through the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES, into the esophagus. The LES muscle is meant to prevent this from happening, so when it malfunctions, acid from your stomach can leak into your esophagus. This can often cause obvious symptoms like heartburn, but some people experience no symptoms at all. In fact, GERD is one of the most common gastrointestinal disorders in the United States, affecting about 20 percent of the adult population.
What causes acid reflux?
There are many possible causes of acid reflux. Most cases are caused by lifestyle factors like obesity and smoking, both of which can increase the risk of the LES muscles relaxing at the wrong times. For people who struggle with severe obesity and other medical conditions, surgical options like a sleeve gastrectomy can be an effective way to eliminate acid reflux. In other cases, it’s something that you may need to live with for years.
How can I protect my teeth from acid reflux?
Unfortunately, there’s no good way to protect your teeth from the effects of acid reflux. When your mouth is flooded with gastric acid, your teeth are at high risk of damage due to erosion and enamel loss. If you’ve already been diagnosed with acid reflux, it’s important to speak to your dentist about your dental health. If your condition is left untreated, you could eventually suffer from tooth decay and gum disease. During your appointments, use these tips to protect your smile during your next appointment:
Treatment Options for Acid Reflux
Conservative measures like avoiding acidic foods, losing weight, and quitting smoking can help treat acid reflux symptoms. However, if these measures do not help or if there is damage to your teeth caused by acid from GERD, there are several dental treatments that may help. Dental treatments for acid reflux include dental crowns and fillings, root canal therapy to remove damaged tissue, and periodontal treatment to address gum damage.
Lifestyle Changes for Acid Reflux
Healthy eating habits and lifestyle choices are important aspects of treating acid reflux with your dentist. When making dietary changes to treat your reflux, consider the following guidelines.
- Avoid anything that may aggravate your stomach or esophagus lining further. That means avoiding acidic foods and beverages like tomatoes and citrus (and their juices), spicy peppers, coffee, tea, soda, and other carbonated drinks, and alcohol.
- Try to eat smaller meals more often throughout the day rather than a few large ones. Try to space out your meals by at least three hours if possible.
- If it’s possible, try sleeping on your left side. Sleeping on your stomach isn’t recommended because it increases pressure on your lower esophageal sphincter and can worsen symptoms.
- Make sure your bed is firm enough to support your neck and back well. Consider adding an extra pillow under your head if your mattress doesn’t provide enough support. This position may relieve some of the pressure placed on your upper stomach while you sleep at night due to gravity.
- If you smoke, quit! Smoking affects saliva production and the acidity of the mouth, and it can also increase the stomach acids in your system. Contact your doctor if you need help quitting smoking.
- Talk to your doctor or dentist about medications you’re currently taking to see if they may be contributing to your symptoms. They may be able to prescribe a different medication that doesn’t have the side effect of heartburn.
If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms and aren’t sure how they relate to your oral health, make an appointment to speak with a dentist near you. They’ll work with you to make a plan that includes treatments specific to your condition so you can get relief as soon as possible.
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