ACID REFLUX: CAUSES, SYMPTOMS, AND EFFECT ON ORAL AND PHYSICAL HEALTH

By Drs. Karla Bloomquist and Chiarina Iregui

The definition of acid reflux: A condition in which acidic gastric fluid flows backward into the esophagus, resulting in heartburn.

The cause of acid reflux is not related to one particular thing. Foods you eat, consuming large meals and/or eating late at night, certain beverages such as alcohol or coffee, the stress in your life, obesity, pregnancy, hiatal hernia, certain medications such as aspirin, and obstructive sleep apnea are a handful of contributing factors that can result in an attack of acid reflux or heartburn.

It might make sense how the foods you eat or the medications you take can affect your chances of suffering from acid reflux, but the lack of an open airway while you sleep (obstructive sleep apnea), might not make as much sense. If you are a person who suffers from snoring, gasping for breath when sleeping, dreams of drowning, or any of the numerous signs of obstructive sleep apnea, you are also more at risk of suffering from acid reflux or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). When the airway narrows or closes while you sleep, a negative pressure is produced in the breathing tube and acid from the stomach is “sucked” up into the esophagus, much like a vacuum picks up debris from a floor or carpet. This results in acid sitting in the esophagus, mouth, and sinuses.

Continued exposure to acid is not healthy for ANY of these tissues. Damage to the lower esophagus from stomach acid causes scar tissue. This in turn narrows the food pathway which can lead to difficulty swallowing. Some scientists suggest that congestion in the morning is due to acid aerosols that irritate the tissues of the nose and sinuses. This aerosol is caused by acid reflux. This type of morning congestion is often mistaken for allergies. If your teeth are exposed to acid continuously, the enamel will erode leaving you with crater-like lesions on your teeth.  Subsequently, your teeth become more susceptible to decay and are generally more sensitive.

The perfect storm of tooth destruction occurs when acid reflux is caused by a narrowed airway when sleeping.  When the negative pressures mentioned above suction the acid from the stomach into the esophagus and mouth, this acid sits on the teeth while you sleep.  Because saliva is thicker at night and its production decreases, your teeth do not benefit from its neutralizing and washing effect. Therefore, leaving the teeth bathing in acid.

Now consider that a lot of people who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea also grind their teeth while sleeping. Nocturnal grinding wears down teeth just by the mere action of the rubbing of teeth together. Combine this with the softening of the teeth due to stomach acid in the mouth from acid reflux, and you can see how your teeth can wear away before their time.

It is crucial that if you suffer from acid reflux, you manage it appropriately. Find out and treat the cause! It very well could be obstructive sleep apnea. In addition, your teeth will suffer erosion, wear, or pitted enamel as a consequence. Your body will thank you if you take care of it!

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