Gastroesophageal reflux disease, more commonly abbreviated as GERD, can be a difficult to deal with at the best of times, so any GERD sufferer should take some precautions against developing additional illnesses as a result of the symptoms of GERD. However, one of these secondary illnesses can be particular difficult to prevent -- tooth erosion. Your dentist will need to work with you to overcome any tooth erosion caused by GERD.
How does GERD cause tooth erosion?
Despite the dental damage that GERD can cause, it actually affects the stomach rather than the mouth itself. GERD is caused by failure of the lower oesophageal sphincter, the sphincter that ordinarily prevents stomach acid from leaving the stomach via the oesophagus. A number of risk factors can make lower oesophageal sphincter failure more likely, such as excessive blood calcium, obesity or a hiatal hernia.
The characteristic symptom of GERD is acid reflux, during which digestive acids from the stomach escape through the weakened lower oesophageal sphincter and into the oesophagus. Besides the damage this causes to the oesophagus, small amounts of acid can also leak into the mouth and blend with saliva. This temporarily and significantly reduces the pH of your saliva, to the point where it is acidic enough to begin corroding the enamel coatings of your teeth. Once a tooth starts to lose this protective coating, it is left much more vulnerable to decay and infection as well as damage caused by hard foods. It may also become visibly cracked or stained, and an increase in heat sensitivity is common.
How can my dentist help treat tooth erosion caused by GERD?
If you suffer from GERD, or even if you have frequent acid reflux without suffering from the full-blown condition, you should make attending your dental examinations a top priority. You should have your teeth inspected at least every 6 months -- that way, if your dentist detects signs of enamel erosion caused by acid reflux, they can act upon it quickly before severe damage sets in.
If your dentist does detect signs of tooth erosion (tooth erosion caused by GERD is generally most prominent on the upper, or maxillary, set of teeth), they cannot replace it, and the body cannot generate more enamel. However, there are a number of treatments available that will strengthen the remaining tooth enamel and prevent the existing damage from spreading:
- Fluoride treatments - These treatments consist of a strong fluoride solution, which is applied to the teeth with a shaped tray or as a topical gel. This intensive fluoride treatment will significantly strengthen remaining healthy enamel, making it less vulnerable to acid erosion.
- Remineralising treatments - High concentrations of calcium can be applied to your teeth to repair areas where enamel has been weakened but not yet destroyed and are usually applied as topical pastes.
- Bonded veneers - These are generally made of porcelain or polymer resin and are cemented to a damaged tooth to provide protection. High quality veneers can look just like regular teeth but can be expensive to make and install.
- Crowns - If your tooth has suffered terminal damage due to acid erosion, your dentist may recommended having the tooth crowned. This involves removing damaged portions of tooth enamel and shaving the remaining tooth down to leave a strong, inner core of healthy dentin. This is then capped with a realistic crown made of porcelain, gold, resin or other materials. Bear in mind that having crowns fitted is a long and expensive procedure that will only be used as a last resort.
For more information about protecting your teeth from damage due to GERD, talk to your dentist.