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Mystery Solved: Acid Reflux and the Oral Cavity

September 20, 2016
by Gloria Alban, DDS, RHN


I am a retired dentist who has a passion for preventative dentistry and preventive medicine. I recently became painfully aware of the ramifications of acid reflux and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) on the oral cavity.

I developed severe GERD late last year. Unfortunately, complete understanding of the difficulties experienced by patients comes best through direct experience. I look back at many of the patients I worked with throughout my 23 years practicing dentistry and think that I wish I had known then what I understand now.

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I have put together this article to help dentists and their patients understand how GERD is creating many dental problems and also the best way to fix them. I hope you will take a few minutes to read this article because I believe the information can help you change patients’ lives and also reduce the frustration of treating patients whose oral health seems to be deteriorating in spite of excellent dental care.

Acid reflux or GERD affects over 50% of adults and 37% of young people. 1 It occurs when the contents of the stomach end up in the esophagus and oral cavity as a result
of inadequate closure of the esophageal sphincters. The pain of heartburn is a symptom in only 10% of cases while others may experience:

• Post-nasal drip
• Hoarseness
• Sore throat
• Throat clearing
• Chronic cough
• Difficulty swallowing
• Choking
• Asthma-like wheezing and symptoms
• Chest pain
And many other symptoms….

Nocturnal reflux is very common and extremely damaging since hydrochloric acid and the enzymes of the stomach, especially pepsin, stay in contact with the esophagus and oral cavity for hours. Many people experience silent reflux and do not realize that some of their symptoms are a result of stomach acid.

Medical doctors prescribe Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) to reduce the amount of acid secreted in the stomach and to eliminate the symptoms of GERD. Although symptoms often improve, PPIs are not able to stop the progression of GERD. A Danish study of 10,000 patients showed that taking PPIs may increase the risk of heart attacks and esophageal cancer. 2 Another study showed that PPIs may increase the risk of dementia. 3 PPIs can be important for a short time (ideally four to eight weeks) but must not be relied on long term to treat GERD.

Diet and lifestyle changes are the best way to reverse the course of this disease.

Oral Manifestations

When I had my first experience of acid reflux, I was shocked by what I felt. I woke up the first morning with a mouth full of sour acid. It took several days of research, trying different suggestions and antacids, and seeing my doctor to begin to improve the problem. By then, my teeth were extremely sensitive, my gums and tongue felt raw and my throat was sore constantly.

I began to think about some of my patients who had constant sensitivies, chalky enamel and rampant decay and I knew that I had missed the diagnosis of GERD. I had also missed helping them to preserve their teeth and heal their disease.

Oral symptoms of GERD may include any of the following:

• Sour taste
• Dysphagia
• Excess salivation
• Pain on swallowing
• Tooth sensitivies
• Generalized mouth pain and irritation
• Demineralization of enamel (chalky looking first)
• Excessive erosion of enamel – may be located on the palatal surfaces of the maxillary teeth initially
• Chronic decay

“Early recognition of surface changes is essential. Initial signs include the first stages of erosion with chalkiness and loss of lustre.” 4

Dentists must be aware that these symptoms and many others can be indicators of GERD and that patients are not aware of stomach acid contributing to these problems.

The Cure

There are many ways the dentist can help their patient suffering with GERD to protect their mouth and esophagus. Here are a few suggestions that can make an immediate
difference.

• Eliminate all soda pop completely (regular and diet). Pop has been acidified since the 70s and this may be a contributor to the epidemic of GERD 5
• Stop all night time eating. No food or drinks (other than small sips of water) after 7PM or four hours before bedtime
• Eat three meals a day and two snacks. Avoid processed, fatty and acidic foods
• Use a wedge pillow for sleeping and/or raise the head of bed six inches
• Drink Alkaline water. This water neutralizes pepsin which is the enzyme that damages the esophagus 6
• Walk, especially after meals
• Work with a naturopath or nutritionist to identify sensitivities and triggers to establish a diet that works for the person. Problem foods are highly individual and must be determined for optimal health

Suggestions for Patients for the Teeth and Oral Cavity

• Use a baking soda toothpaste with fluoride. Rub a dab over your teeth with your finger and then rinse with water several times a day. Do not brush your teeth when your mouth feels acidic as this contributes to enamel loss
• Rinse with a fluoride mouthwash or use a fluoride gel daily
• Avoid eating acidic and sugary foods- eliminate your triggers and sensitivities to eliminate GERD
• Have regular dental checkups, X-rays and cleanings
• Consider a nightguard to protect teeth from wear due to bruxism

The best long term solution for GERD is a combination of diet and lifestyle changes.

When I saw my doctor and gastroenterologist with my severe symptoms of GERD, I was prescribed medication and sent home with a page of information about the proper diet. The medication helped somewhat but I needed to have support to test and incorporate the lifestyle changes that would lead me to healing my illness. Having a nutrition degree and a great deal of experience in lifestyle changes, I began to read and research the problem of GERD.

Three months later, I was able to eliminate PPI medications and have learned to control my acid problem daily. It has not been easy but the process has helped me to improve my health dramatically.

We as dentists, owe it to our patients to notice the problem and provide the information and support they require to improve their GERD. Dentists are probably in the best position to help patients understand why they are having “teeth problems” related to GERD. As trusted professionals, dentists can recommend medical, nutritional and lifestyle referrals to heal their patients’ stomachs, esophagus and oral health issues caused by acid reflux and GERD.

References:
1. Koufman, Jamie. Dr. Koufman’s Acid Reflux Diet; Katalitix Media; USA, 2015
2. Rodriguez, Jorge E, The Acid Reflux Solution; Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, 2013
3. Gomm W, von Holt K, Thomé F, et al. Association of Proton Pump Inhibitors With Risk of Dementia: A Pharmacoepidemiological Claims Data Analysis. JAMA Neurol. 2016;73(4):410-416. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2015.4791.
4. Hvid-Jensen, F., Pedersen, L., Funch-Jensen, P. and Drewes, A. M. (2014), Proton pump inhibitor use may not prevent high-grade dysplasia and oesophageal adenocarcinoma in Barrett’s oesophagus: a nationwide study of 9883 patients. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 39: 984–991. doi: 10.1111/apt.12693
5. Ranjitkar, S., Smales, R. J. and Kaidonis, J. A. (2012), Oral manifestations of gastroesophageal reflux disease. Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, 27: 21–27. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1746.2011. 06945.
6. Roesch-Ramos, Laura; Dental erosion, an extraesophageal manifestation of gastroesophageal reflux disease. Institute for Medical-Biological Research, 2014 http://scielo.isciii.es/pdf/diges/v106n2/original3.pdf
7. Vincent W. Wang, MD, PHD and Mohammad Wehbi, M.D;Understanding Acid Reflux and Its Dental Manifestations; www.dentistryiq.com.


Dr. Gloria Alban graduated from the University of Toronto, Faculty of Dentistry in 1978. She worked in her own dental practice in Toronto until 2001 when she retired due to health issues. As part of her healing, she became a Holistic Nutritionist in 2010. Dr. Alban now works in association with the Spark Institute in Vaughan, Ontario – a clinic devoted to preventive medicine and the natural treatment of digestive disorders, eating disorders, anxiety and depression. In her free time, she volunteers as a grief and crisis counselor with the Toronto Distress Centre and enjoys yoga, hiking and cooking for her family.


RELATED ARTICLE: Prosthodontic Treatment of The Severely Worn Dentition


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35 Comments » for Mystery Solved: Acid Reflux and the Oral Cavity
  1. Guy says:

    What you have experienced Gloria is vary mild in comparison to many. Elevating the head of your bed by 4 inches, and sleeping on your left side will stop liquid refluxates from progressing to your esophagus , but will not stop the fumes from causing perpetual histamines from dripping from your oral cavities. It is even worse when they extend to the whole side of your face into your ears. Using Sensodyne, and constantly drinking green tea without sugar protects my teeth, and helps with clearing the mucus which I frequently choke on. When not drinking tea or water I perpetually sniffle to the point of distraction to anyone I meet. So they don’t think I’m weird, I tell them in advance why I do it, and what causes it.

    • Lisa says:

      I have the gas fumes that invade my sinuses, ears, eyes and mouth. My teeth feel like they have spacers in between all of them pushing them so much so that they feel like they don’t line up with my bottom teeth. I have no liquid reflux. I have silent reflux and it’s all fumes. Anyway to stop the fumes?

  2. Malka says:

    Night guard eliminates nighttime reflux. My dentist was lecturing me about my tiny teeth from grinding. About 3 months ago I started using my mouthguard. After 20 years of painful acid reflux I no longer have any nighttime symptoms. Thanks to Dr Robert Davies in Stayner Ontario. I hope this helps others it’s changed my life

  3. Jeanie says:

    How long after starting a PPI would I expect to see my gums improve? Thank you.

  4. Siuox says:

    Hi, recently diagnosed after 1 year of dealing with this. Can this affect the tongue causing it to be dry and slightly “fat” or slightly “swollen” ?
    Thank you. 🙂

  5. Sherry Dotson says:

    This article has really helped me because I am dealing with acid reflex badly right now and reading this article has helped me out alot and I am going to try this what the doctor has shared because I want to feel better thank you so much for sharing .

  6. Harriet says:

    It has been a terrible experience dealing with GERD. The acid consistently flows through to my mouth which has affected my oral cavity. A part of my tongue is slightly raised, inner cheek sometimes raised and pressure on my gum which is affecting my dentition. All these effects are on the left side of the mouth. Almost anything I eat is a trigger. I’ve been on PPI for over a year. Please what should I do next?

    • Cindy Heyward says:

      What gel do you recommend? I had purchased the sensodyne Pro enamel toothpaste today….

      • Sangeeta Tulsiyan says:

        I also have the similar problem and following works for me –
        The problem is everyday I have to do and there is no escape. But it really helps –
        1. Morning regular exercise for 30 mins. I constantly keep on getting the burps while exercising.
        2. Fried food is s strict No
        3. Minimum intake of sweets
        4. Regular brushing of teeth in morning and night along with warm water gargles with salt and baking soda.

        I will also try some of the things mentioned in this article. Thanks for sharing.

    • Fel says:

      Hi Harriet, I’ve been having the same problem. Here’s a video I found on YouTube that might help https://youtu.be/hzC95NphH5w

      I still didn’t do what he advised yet, but I will soon. Hope you get better.

  7. Wanda Scalzo says:

    I was fine with acid reflux until I had an antibiotic messed up my acid reflux. Now having had time. Dry month, hard to swallow at times, and knot in throat. Not on any meds, only pepcid ac 20 mg two times a day. Do not drink alcohol, no smoking, good diet. It’s driving me nuts.

    • Lisa says:

      Me too. 20 mg 2x a day pepcid and I eat acid free diet and drink alkaline water and sleep sitting up and I still have fumes swelling my gums and making my teeth hurt like they have severe pressure and are spreading

      • Peter says:

        Hi Lisa, my throat feels sore, the back and top of the roof of my mouth burns, metallic and bitter taste in my mouth, regurgitation and tingle feeling on top and sides of my tongue. How can I tell the difference If what I have are fumes or the actual acid that is coming up to my mouth?

  8. Cindy Heyward says:

    I have a white tongue and went to the ent who told me that I have acid reflux And that’s it wasn’t thrush. …Prior to that the dentist said it was plaque. Now. I am staying away from fried foods, alcohol, chocolate …. healthier diet.. along with sleeping 4-6 inches on a inclined thats is underneath my mattress which allows me to raised my bed like an adjustable bed. It cost me $ 179 on Amazon, but worth it. How do I get rid of the white tongue and when will it go away?

  9. Lewis says:

    Has anyone else had a feeling on the roof of their mouth, as if it was burned, but it wasn’t? Or a weird sort of tingle/itch on the tongue? Happens off and on when I eat anything, doctor says if it was a food allergy something would happen every time. I have been on a lot of antibiotics this year and the GERD has gotten worse. Also have the metallic taste in the mouth, or a feeling of a dry tongue even when drinking water.

    • Sarah says:

      Yes, I also have a feeling on the back part of the roof of my mouth that feels like it was burned, irritated, constantly now since January. I have not been aware of gastric reflux happening, but I was unexpectedly found to have Barrett’s Esophagus and hiatial hernia when undergoing an upper GI and colonoscopy for other possible diagnostic reasons. I was prescribed a PPI but have hesitated to fill it since I had read that it can interfere with absorption of nutrients and increase possibility of infection in intestinal tract. I was thankful to have found this article mentioning other problematic side effects of PPI medication and the fact that it does not actually decrease the acid reflux, only treats the symptoms. Before reading this article, I made an appointment with my primary care person to look at the roof of my mouth to diagnose what is causing it. If I find information about it being either acid reflux or something else, I will post again here for you in case it might give you some avenue to explore more for yourself personally.

    • Sarah says:

      Yes, re roof of mouth and tip of tongue. You are not alone. Anyone else?

      • Peter says:

        Hi Sarah I also have that burning feeling on the back and roof of my mouth, also the tingling on the sides and top of tongue. I’ve been taking PPI but I see no improvement. If I stop taking PPI will my symptoms get worse or I’ll get sicker?

        • sally sassine says:

          me 2 peter. i am very stressed about it! 10 months now 🙁 plus feeling that my mouth is dry, i am taking dexilant 60 since January and nothing worked.

    • Terri says:

      Maybe since you were on lots of antibiotics, your good gut bacteria may have been affected thus not allowing for good digestion of your food. Could this be the reason for an increase in reflux?

    • Terri says:

      Maybe since you were on lots of antibiotics, your good gut bacteria may have been affected thus not allowing for good digestion of your food. Could this be the reason for an increase in reflux?

  10. Lisa Rust says:

    I have noticed my 2 top front teeth have been damaged at the back. Woke up one morning and I could feel it with my tongue. During the day a tiny part of one of the tooth had broken away. I have an appointment with my dentist this month and will discuss what can be done going forward. he didn’t notice any erosion at my last appointment (before lockdown) I am very annoyed as I have always looked after my teeth and aged 55 I was always proud of the way I take care of them. This rotten condition causes so many issues.

  11. Candace Asbury says:

    My dentist completely ignored my conditions for years I never once had a cavity until I developed extreme acid reflux at age 13 and it slowly started to affect my teeth and even when I expressed my concern about it he still ignored me and continued to just fill my teeth over and over to the point once I turned 18 I decided to find another dentist which took me months to even get into see one. By that time my teeth had gotten so bad I needed 2 pulled and the rest crowned which didn’t happen because I lost my Medicaid then I finally get it back during COVID-19 and can’t get in to see my dentist then I finally do and now they are saying my Medicaid isn’t active and my teeth have just gotten worse and worse to the point I have a gum infection and can only eat with one side of my back teeth and can’t afford to get anything done.

    • Lexie says:

      I am in the same boat same story almost. I have had 5 root canals and have 3 infections currently. I have been to 8 different dentist all tell me something different. I am 27 years old and have probable barrett’s esophogus ( which didn’t even get diagnosed with until I was 18) Which since I was 14 have been struggling with decay and infections I have had two crowns also on top of all of the fillings and more fillings and root canals. at this point the infections are from all the cracks in my teeth from fillings. Fillings obviously are not the solution here. My dental insurance does not cover anything except cleanings so I am in the same boat right now. It’s awful!

  12. Peter says:

    Anyone konws somebody that had surgery or thinking about having it? My symptoms are everyday all day and dexilant and pepcid are not helping, my chest is been hurting and burning for two I don’t know what to do anymore. Any help I’ll appreciate it.

    • Kenyon says:

      I had a nissen fundoplication. It worked wonders… however…I was very stupid. I hot excited and ate everything I site. Drank soda… the works. 2 years later and I have silent reflux. If you get the surgery be very mindful that you can mess it up if you’re not careful. Also, it’s a very painful surgery and comes with a rough recovery.

  13. Lynn Risdon says:

    For the last 6 months or so, when I take my double bit guards off in the morning, I have blisters on the inside of my lips where the guards have been. Could this be from acid coming up during the night and being trapped on the surface of the guards???? I have had the guards for 9 years and am in the process of having new ones made.
    I don’t really feel any symptoms of acid reflux but your article has opened my eyes to some changes I will make in my lifestyle.
    Thank you.

  14. Barbiiemac says:

    I had surgery in 2013, Heller myotomy with fundiplication. It made my symptoms worse. I just looked on YouTube at Yoga for acid reflux yesterday and plan to start the routine later today. I dare not do any poses that include bending over. There are some upright positions I want to try..
    Im desperate. Barbiemac.

  15. Wow! This could be one of the most useful blogs we have ever come across on the subject. Actually excellent info! Thank you for publishing this awesome article.
    Dentist La Grange KY

  16. Norma Roberts says:

    I have had reflux for 31 years! It started when I was pregnant but I managed to stay on top of it with Gaviscon. As I got older, late 40s early 50s, it got worse and I took a PPI which controlled it 90% of the time. Then, 13 years ago, I had my gallbladder removed and things got much much worse! I stopped smoking, drinking, and my diet became very, very, bland. I also did the raising of the head of the bed, not eating within 4 hours of going to bed etc etc. I even tried just eating dry bread and drinking water for a week! It made not one bit of difference! I’d had endoscopies in the past, but never a barium swallow, until 2018. They discovered that not only do I have an hiatus hernia, but I have an esophageal motility problem – I don’t/can’t swallow properly ,and that’s because I have osteophytes (small bony growths due to arthritis) in my cervical spine (neck) which are pressing on nerves which control the esophagus and one, a fairly large one, is pressing on the esophagus itself! I’m posting this to show that not all reflux is down to diet etc (although these things can help) in fact, a gastroenterologist told me that the vast majority of reflux is down to a problem with the esophagus, stomach and/or the LES (lower esophageal sphincter ) the muscle between the esophagus & the stomach which is supposed to remain tightly closed until we swallow, or vomit/belch.

  17. Matthew says:

    I was born without a functional esophageal valve and have been treating it with PPIs for nearly 20 years. I do not drink alcohol or sugary drinks, smoke, and have a reasonable diet.

    Recently I had to change my medication due to side effects that had developed, but the reflux has come back with severe complications. I am constantly short of breath and my mouth and throat are an inflamed mess of pain and tenderness, to the extent I cannot eat or brush my teeth without severe pain.

    Thanks for publishing an article outlining a link between reflux and oral cavity symptoms, because these are so often overlooked or unknown.

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