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Oral Effects and Cancer Risks Associated with Acid Reflux & GERD

Acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are very common conditions. According to the American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, "It is estimated that GERD affects up to 30 million people in the U.S., with 10% of those individuals experiencing symptoms on a daily basis." Both are caused by the liquid content of the stomach backing up (reflux) into the esophagus. The liquid can inflame and damage the lining of the esophagus.  If left untreated, these conditions can have a significant impact on oral health and increase risks for developing Esophageal Cancer.

Signs and symptoms of GERD can include

• Heartburn – a burning sensation in the chest

• Regurgitation of food or sour liquid

• Difficulty swallowing

• Coughing, wheezing and chest pain, especially while lying down

• Hoarseness and sore throat

• Belching, nausea, vomiting

• Stomach ache or pain upon awakening

• Sinus infections

• Asthma may worsen

• Burning mouth

• Tooth enamel erosion – increased wear and decay

• Tooth chipping, sensitivity & yellow discoloration of teeth

• Bad breath

Tooth enamel is the outer covering of the crown of a tooth. Even though enamel is the hardest tissue in the human body, it can be damaged by acid found in certain foods, beverages and, in cases of acid reflux, liquid from the stomach that aids in digestion. The wear caused by acid erosion can reduce thickness of tooth enamel and change the texture, shape and appearance of teeth. Teeth may become sensitive and require dental treatment to protect the softer layer of tooth structure, called dentin, that lies underneath enamel.

The esophagus is the muscular tube through which food passes from the throat to the stomach. There are two main types of esophageal cancer: Squamous Cell Carcinoma and Adenocarcinoma. Squamous cell cancer is more common in African Americans as well as people who smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol excessively. This type of cancer is not increasing in frequency. Adenocarcinoma of the esophagus occurs most commonly in Caucasians as well as people with GERD and is increasing in frequency. The risk for developing adenocarcinoma of the esophagus goes up based on how long the acid reflux has been going on and how severe the symptoms are. GERD can also lead to a condition called Barrett's esophagus, which is linked to an even higher risk of developing cancer of the esophagus.

If you believe that you may suffer from a form of acid reflux, discuss your symptoms with your doctor. Treating your acid reflux can protect your teeth and reduce your risks for developing esophageal cancer.

Sources:

Acid Reflux and Oral Health

GERD, Barrett's Esophagus and the Risk for Esophageal Cancer

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