Do you ever get a burning sensation in your chest after eating or while lying in bed at night? This uncomfortable pain could be the sign of Gastroesophageal reflex disease (GERD) also commonly known as acid reflex. GERD occurs when stomach acid backflows into the tube (esophagus) that connects your stomach and your mouth. Additional symptoms include; chest pain, difficulty swallowing, feeling of a lump in your throat, and regurgitation of food. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms it’s important to discuss them with your dentist and PCP as it can cause long term damage to your stomach, esophagus and teeth. There are a few factors to be aware of that can exacerbate these symptoms which are; smoking, eating late at night, eating too much, certain beverages, fatty or fried foods and certain medications like aspirin.
GERD in adults, teens and children is diagnosed and treated the same way in most cases. You’re PCP or specialist will evaluate your symptoms, then decide treatment including; lifestyle change, medications, diet, or if surgery is needed. GERD in infants is more serious. Symptoms to look out for are; more spitting up than normal, colic, vomiting and refusing to eat. GERD usually happens in infants due to the lower esophageal sphincter not being fully developed. Treatment will depend on the infant’s symptoms as well as age.
As a hygienist part of my job is to be looking for signs of chemical erosion. Protecting my patients’ teeth and overall health is important to me. When you are suffering from GERD, the stomach acids get into your mouth and over time wear away the protective enamel layer on your teeth. This chemical erosion makes you more susceptible to decay and sensitivity. Many people who have GERD also experience dry mouth which is a bad combination. We depend on saliva to wash away the bacteria and neutralize the acids caused by acid reflex, but when you have a decrease in production of saliva it increases your risk for decay. It’s important to know that tooth erosion is permanent and enamel cannot be restored or replaced, so catch it early when possible. Some people suffer from chronic GERD, while others may experience it during certain times of their lives such as during pregnancy or obesity.
What can you do if you have GERD to protect your teeth? Use a non- abrasive toothpaste like Pro-enamel or a prescription RX fluoride toothpaste from your dentist, use Act Dry mouth rinse, chew sugar-free gum within moderation to help encourage saliva production, avoid alcohol, smoking and eating within 3 hours of going to bed, and see your dentist regularly so they can monitor for any changes.