Acid Reflux and Children's Dental Health: FAQ

Acid Reflux and Children's Dental Health: FAQ
Posted on 09/14/2022

If you've looked into common threats to children's dental wellness as a concerned parent, you may already know that acidic foods and beverages can do serious harm to your little one's teeth. However, you should also know that stomach acid can cause similar damage in children afflicted with acid reflux issues.

The greater your awareness of pediatric acid reflux’s causes, effects, and symptoms, the more effectively you and your pediatric dentist can work together against this dental foe. Check out the answers to the following frequently asked questions about acid reflux and children's dental health.

What Causes Acid Reflux in Children?

Acid reflux involves the regurgitation of stomach acid up the esophagus. In many cases, these strong, caustic fluids cause the discomfort commonly known as heartburn. However, some acid reflux attacks actually include vomiting or the movement of acid into the oral cavity. This problem can affect both children and adults.

A child with acid reflux will often have a weak esophageal sphincter. This ring of muscle normally stays closed to keep stomach contents from moving up into the esophagus. Weakness of the esophageal sphincter commonly occurs in babies, causing them to spit up milk or formula until the sphincter grows stronger.

Unfortunately, while this problem usually resolves itself by the age of one, some kids continue to struggle with it throughout childhood. As their baby teeth erupt, followed by their permanent teeth, recurring bouts of acid regurgitated into the mouth pose a threat to these teeth.

How Does Acid Reflux Affect Teeth?

In people of any age, stomach acid can gradually strip away the outer layer of enamel that protects teeth's sensitive inner structures. The most acid erosion usually develops on the inner tooth surfaces facing the back of the mouth. Thin enamel can make teeth unusually sensitive to heat, cold, and bite pressure.

Enamel weakened by acid erosion may also fall prey to other kinds of damage. As small pits on the teeth grow into holes, cavities may develop easily. Weaker teeth may also face higher risks of cracks or fractures. Children who vomit frequently may not get sufficient nutrition to maintain healthy, strong teeth.

Even the treatment designed to control acid reflux can have a negative impact on tooth enamel. These medications often include dry mouth as a side effect. Since saliva normally helps protect tooth enamel, a lack of saliva could make the teeth more vulnerable to bacteria, leading to cavities and gum disease.

What Trouble Signs Indicate Possible Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux can produce many symptoms that you can detect in your child. The classic examples include stomach discomfort, belching, gagging, choking, wheezing, loss of interest in eating, and frequent coughing. Your child may also have trouble with hiccups and recurring ear infections. You may even hear a rattling sound in the chest.

Even if your child doesn't display the classic symptoms of acid reflux, you might notice little holes developing in the child's molars and canines. These changes should prompt you to schedule a dental evaluation to determine their cause and the potential need for treatment.

Regardless of the dental threats involved, acid treatment in children requires evaluation and treatment. Untreated acid reflux can lead to a kind of inflammation or irritation called esophagitis. Severe damage can even cause bleeding or scarring in the esophagus as well as serious respiratory conditions such as pneumonia.

How Can You Protect Your Child's Dental Health?

Regular pediatric dental exams can prove especially important for children who might suffer from acid reflux. These exams give your dentist the chance to spot acid erosion and other signs of acid reflux before the damage gets too extensive. The sooner your dentist diagnoses acid reflux, the sooner you can do something about it.

Certain dental treatments can help protect vulnerable tooth enamel against stomach acid, at least to some degree. Ask your pediatric dentist whether fluoride varnish applications during checkups and cleanings might strengthen the enamel. Your child might also benefit from sealants that provide a physical barrier against acids.

Between dental visits, adjustments to your child's home dietary, nutritional, and dental hygiene practices may reduce the acid reflux itself. Your pediatrician can advise you on smart menu choices and meal sizes. Weight loss may help overweight children's acid reflux. Rinse and brush a younger child's mouth after each meal.

Your child may need to minimize or avoid fried, spicy, or sour foods as well as acidic beverages such as fruit juice. Starchy, sugary foods tend to stick to enamel, turning into plaque and tartar that encourage tooth decay, so your dentist may advise you to restrict your child's consumption of these foods as well.

Dentistry for Children & Adolescents can help your child maintain healthy teeth for life by catching acid reflux and other tooth-threatening conditions in their early stages, and by providing the necessary treatment and advice to help get those issues under better control. If your child has acid reflux, contact us for a dental evaluation.


Dentistry for Children & Adolescents

  • Edina Office - 7373 France Ave. S., Suite 402, Edina, MN 55435 Phone: 952-831-4400
  • Burnsville Office - 14050 Nicollet Ave., Suite 100, Burnsville, MN 55337 Phone: 952-435-4102
  • Eden Prairie Office - 6385 Old Shady Oak Road, Suite 150, Eden Prairie , MN 55344 Phone: 952-932-0920

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