Most people recognize heartburn: that painful burning sensation radiating from inside the chest. Persistent symptoms, more than twice weekly, may be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. But not everyone with GERD has the symptoms of heartburn. In fact, you may have GERD and not even know it.
How can your dentist tell?
GERD, commonly called acid reflux, is caused when the esophageal sphincter, which separates the stomach from the esophagus, allows acid to seep out of the stomach. Many times this acid causes symptoms of heartburn, but not always. Sometimes the first indication that a person may have GERD is the erosion of the enamel on the molars or on the backside of teeth.
Stomach acid eats away at the enamel on your teeth. A pattern of enamel loss on the back teeth can indicate to your dentist that you have GERD.
What can you do?
Loss of enamel is permanent and can increase your risk of tooth decay. Enamel is a protective layer on the outside of your teeth. GERD can cause other long-term damage, such as irritation and inflammation of your esophagus, which makes you more susceptible to esophageal cancer.
That’s why getting a regular oral exam from a dentist is so important — your dentist may find early symptoms of a potentially serious problem before it progresses. In fact, more than 90% of systemic diseases have oral manifestations that may be detected during an oral exam by a dentist.
You can lower your risk of acid reflux by eating smaller meals, staying upright after eating and cutting out smoking and alcohol. Changing your diet can also help. Trigger foods and drinks include tomatoes, citric fruits, chocolate, coffee, garlic, onions and meals that are spicy, acidic or high in fat. Losing weight, especially in the abdominal area, can also go a long way in reducing GERD.