Sweets, sugary foods and bad hygiene are the first things that come to mind when someone mentions damaged teeth. But, according to a dentist, one of the most common causes of damaged teeth I see is acid reflux.
“Acid reflux is a condition that is exactly as it sounds. It’s when acid from the digestive system enters the esophagus causing discomfort. When it becomes more severe, it falls under a broader condition called GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease),” says Dr. Steven Lin.
Some symptoms include:
- heartburn (chest pain after eating)
- acid reflux (where stomach acid comes back up into your mouth and causes an unpleasant, sour taste)
- sore throat
- bad breath
- bloating and belching
- tooth erosion or acid wear
- pain when swallowing
It is estimated that 60 percent at some point will experience symptoms of reflux disease, such as heartburn and acid regurgitation.
The most common way to deal with acid reflux Is to use antacids. These may include medications known as proton pump inhibitors.
Many people don’t realize that the real cause of acid reflux is a bit more complicated. Once you understand the root cause of acid reflux, you’d see that antacids may not be helping and could worsen the condition.
Symptoms and side-effects of acid reflux
“As a dentist, the long-term consequences of GERD symptoms can often be witnessed in the mouth,” says Dr. Lin. “I’ve seen many patients that take antacids such as proton pump inhibitors, yet their acid reflux doesn’t heal.”
Long term acid reflux has many side-effects:
- The low pH in the oral cavity due to the overflow of acid from the digestive system leads to tooth erosion and wear
- Tooth wear due to acid reflux may be identified as a loss of height of the teeth. Other presentations include wear of tooth surfaces on the inside of the teeth or palate.
- Patients often experience bad breath that seems to originate from the digestive system.
What is the root cause?
“All of these conditions have one common underlying process. Acid balance in the mouth is controlled by the microbes in the mouth. The mouth is in direct communication with our gut microbiome. When we lose the balance of the digestive microbiome, we become more prone to infection with pathogens such as H.pylori,” states Dr. Lin.
“Digestive imbalances are then relayed back to the mouth where enamel erosion can result,” he adds.
The role of digestive and gut imbalance
Even though it is generally thought that acid reflux is caused by high stomach acid, oftentimes it can be due to low stomach acid. This results in similar symptoms and sensations such as heartburn.
“The mechanism is that H.pylori has the ability to disable our release of stomach acid,” says Dr. Lin.
The problem occurs when low pH is used as a defense against certain bacteria, and bacteria overgrowth (SIBO for example) may be due to a lack of stomach acid.
“When there is an overgrowth of the wrong species in the digestive system, improper digestion can occur. This can cause gas buildup and intra-abdominal pressure. We know that intra abdominal pressure is related to acid reflux or GERD,” says Dr. Lin.
Basically, acid reflux is likely a bacterial imbalance that may happen due to lack of stomach acid, which is why antacids don’t address the root cause of acid reflux.
H.pylori, gut health, and tooth erosion
The oral microbiome and internal mineral balances manage the tooth enamel. This is the hardest surface in the body and is in constant ion exchange in your mouth.
“The pH of the mouth is governed both by bacteria and saliva. When there is a H.pylori infection in the digestive system, long term imbalance may also colonize the oral microbiome,” says Dr. Lin.
According to recent studies, the mouth is a common place to find H. Pylori.
“In addition to causing problems for your stomach and GI tract, H. Pylori causes dental disease. H.pylori is present in the oral microbiome during gum disease. Bleeding gums or gum disease may be a sign of H.pylori infection in the mouth,” continues Dr. Lin.
While treatments could remove H.pylori from your stomach, it will keep returning from your mouth. So, you have to eliminate H. Pylori from your mouth.
5 steps to heal your mouth and gut from reflux
Long term acid reflux manifests through tooth erosion. This means that a long standing infection will happen.
This is what Dr. Lin advises:
- Go for a full dental check-up and periodontal assessment to eliminate H.pylori colonization in the mouth
- Get a complete digestive check-up, including a food intolerance test
- Take an anti-microbial: bitter herbs are an excellent natural remedy to remove the infection in your digestive system:
- Gentian root
- Globe artichoke
- Include dietary probiotics into your meals: The best form of probiotic will be a fermented vegetable or water kefir. They have fewer carbohydrates in comparison to fermented dairy for example and may help balance the gut microbiome.
- Heal the gut lining by eating lots of collagen. This includes plenty of bone broths which contain the amino acids proline and glutamine that help to heal the intestinal cells.