Everyone’s heard of heartburn, and often associate the symptom with large meals and certain foods (e.g. fried and fatty foods). While it’s true that diet does come into play for heartburn, the symptom can be the beginnings of a larger issue: gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
When you swallow food, it goes from the esophagus to the stomach. At the bottom of the esophagus there is a valve that opens when you swallow and then closes after. But when this valve becomes weaker or becomes stuck (like in the case of a hernia), stomach acid can splash back up and damage the lining. In severe cases, you may regurgitate food and even have stomach acid come back up in your throat and mouth. You can learn more about the basics in the following video:
While GERD can happen to anyone, even babies, it is quite common in the aging population. According to NCBI, those in their 50s, 60s, 70s, or 80s have physiological changes that can make it difficult to sense acid in the esophagus, so they may not get help until damage has already been done.
And besides being horrible for the digestive tract, GERD can be horrible for seniors’ oral health since it can cause dry mouth (which can lead to the growth of bacteria) and since regurgitated acids can wear down enamel. Making sure senior patients don’t have GERD is imperative since this demographic already struggles with tooth wear due to aging:
Wearing down enamel
All the chewing, grinding, and hard impact that your teeth are put through over the years can take a real toll on their health. Not to mention any breakages, chips, or other trauma your teeth may have been exposed to which may result in even worse consequences down the line. Over time your teeth are gradually worn down from continued use or from damage, and this erosion diminishes the hard protective outer layer of teeth – the enamel – which cannot be naturally regained once it’s lost.
To combat enamel loss, be aware of habits that may be speeding up damage done to your teeth and try to stop them as soon as possible. These habits included chewing ice or other hard things like pens and pencils, grinding your teeth, clenching your jaw, and playing high impact sports without an athletic mouthguard. If you are prone to unconscious teeth grinding or clenching, ask your dentist about being fitted for a mouthguard you can wear while sleeping to protect your teeth. Frequent consumption of highly acidic foods such as fruit juices, citrus fruits, coffee, and soft drinks is also a culprit for enamel erosion as the acids eat away at the protective layer. Try to substitute water for acidic beverages and brush your teeth 30 minutes or so after consuming acidic foods to stop the acids from attacking your teeth before they can start. Since the acids weaken enamel, waiting before brushing is important to avoid causing extra harm.
As you can see, 123dentist.com has some good tips for reducing additional tooth wear. GERD can also be managed with certain lifestyle choices. The main issue is that many seniors need to take medications as they age–many of which can cause dry mouth and GERD as symptoms. One way to combat the issue is through salivary stimulants, according to John Flucke’s dental tech blog:
Study Shows OraCoat® XyliMelts® Oral Adhering Discs Effectively Treat Acid Reflux
Gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), more commonly known as acid reflux, describes a chronic digestive condition in which an accumulation of stomach acid in the esophagus creates symptoms. Acid reflux affects about 30 percent of the population on a weekly basis and is known to contribute to or cause a number of medical and dental problems including heartburn, sore throat, laryngitis, cough, halitosis, and tooth decay. The condition is also associated with sleep disturbance and can have a negative effect on nighttime comfort and overall quality of life.
The study aimed to prove if XyliMelts, recently rated by a Clinicians Report® survey as the most effective remedy for alleviating dry mouth† could produce similar results in treating patients suffering from acid reflux, which is often managed by prescribed and over-the-counter medications that prevent excessive acid production . . .
XyliMelts are formulated from all-natural ingredients commonly used in foods. As tests prove that salivary stimulants can decrease the perception of nighttime dry mouth, tests also suggest increased saliva can diminish nighttime reflux . . . Test results displayed that both the disc and gel reduced the taste of reflux, heartburn sensation, morning hoarseness, perceived reflux severity, and the number of antacids taken during the night.
Salivary stimulants can decrease dry mouth, which in turn allows saliva to take care of any regurgitated acids. Along with this solution it is important for seniors to still see their dentists regularly for preventative cleanings. Teeth cleaning and fluoride treatments are vital for strengtehing any enamel that has been worn down by acid. Take a look at dentaloasisofoc.com/preventive-dentistry/teeth-cleaning/ for more information.