Indigestion. Not just the domain of gluttons and pregnant women, around 40% of the population will experience symptoms of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease at some point in their life. It can range from being mildly annoying heartburn, to chest pain so severe people call an ambulance suspecting a heart attack. Sometimes there are no symptoms at all, but there can be serious consequences for your teeth.
Tooth enamel starts to dissolve at a pH of around 5.5. If you're unfamiliar with the pH scale, it ranges from 0-14.
7 is neutral (pure water), 0 is very acidic, 14 is very alkaline. Stomach acid has, alarmingly, a pH of around 1.5-3.5. It needs to be so acidic to help digestion of the many and varied foods we like to send down there. The trouble is, our bodies are meant for stomach acid to go down, not up. When someone experiences reflux, stomach acid is making its way back up the oesophagus, sometimes reaching the mouth. Tooth surfaces readily dissolve in such an acidic environment. If reflux is a regular thing for you, your teeth will slowly show signs of acid erosion and wear.
What to look out for:
- Burning or pain in the chest after eating.
- Bad breath or a bad taste in your mouth, particularly when you first wake up in the morning.
- Sensation of food/liquid coming back up, or as my nanna says, food "repeating" on you.
- Sensitive teeth.
If you're concerned about any of these symptoms, tell your GP and your dentist. You may need further investigations to rule out potentially nasty causes of reflux like cancer. On the less dramatic side, there's lots that can be done to reduce reflux symptoms and to protect your teeth. It may be as simple as avoiding certain trigger foods, or you may need to be prescribed medication to take. During both of my pregnancies packets of antacids took up residence in my handbag. I still find the odd one floating around now!
Reflux is not something you just have to put up with. In fact, ignoring it can mean your teeth slowly dissolve and wear away over the years, leaving you with a very difficult and expensive problem to fix. It's the same old boring mantra: prevention is better than cure. Even with the most advanced, modern dental restorative techniques and materials, a tooth that has been damaged by erosion will never be the same again. So don't let it get to that, get on top of your reflux and keep your teeth intact.