For millions of Americans who take diligent care of their teeth, acid enamel erosion may come as a complete surprise. After all, if you’re doing everything right, this sort of thing isn’t supposed to happen. But often, acid enamel erosion can come from some a very surprising source: your stomach. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) will affect an estimated 60 percent of the adult population in their lifetime, and that painful reflux that burns your esophagus can also cause some major damage to your teeth.
Dr. Stephen Hill of Allen, Texas, says that while the danger to your teeth can happen any time with GERD, the majority of the damage may happen when you’re powerless to stop it.
"When you experience acid reflux during the day, it's usually not as harmful to your teeth because your body is upright," he says. "But for people who experience GERD while they sleep, the acid can easily travel past your esophagus and into your mouth."
This means that your teeth could be bathing in acid for hours without you ever realizing it, and without you being able to stop it. According to Hill, while experiencing infrequent GERD won’t destroy your teeth, many people with chronic GERD don’t even realize they have it, meaning the acid is taking its toll on their teeth without them even realizing it.
"This is why it’s so important to have regular semi-annual dental exams," Hiss says. "If your teeth are starting to show wear due to acid erosion, your dentist will point it out and help determine the cause. If you take great care of your teeth and are brushing before bed, it’s a big tip-off that something could be happening while you sleep."
Hill says patients who suspect they may have GERD should make an appointment with their doctor or gastroenterologist to discuss medication options. There are many 24-hour over-the-counter acid controllers as well as some very effective prescription medications.
"The benefit to the patient is twofold," says Hill. "By treating GERD, you are not only protecting your teeth, but you’re also protecting your stomach and esophagus. I have heard of cases where patients constantly clear their throat throughout the day and assumed they had allergies, but it was irritation from GERD-related acid damage all along. You don’t always realize how much something like GERD can affect your quality of life until you fix the problem."