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    You may notice a patient’s acid reflux sooner than they do

     

    Most of you know that painful burning sensation caused by heartburn. If it is persistent, that is if you are suffering the symptoms more than twice a week, this may be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. But not everyone with GERD has the symptoms of heartburn. Because of this, you could have GERD and not even know.

    That’s where dental professionals can play a key role in identifying patients at risk and helping them get the proper care when needed.

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    Dr. Lauren Gerson, a gastroenterologist at California Pacific Medical Center, San Francisco, is a proponent of having dentists be educated on GERD and also have them prepared to refer to specialists whenever an at-risk patient appears in need of screenings.

    Dr. Gerson is a nationally-recognized researcher in the field of general gastroenterology, including colorectal cancer screening, GERD, gastrointestinal motility disorders, capsule endoscopy and gastrointestinal bleeding. With the number of people suffering from GERD on the rise, she noted that growing research linking GERD with patients who have dental erosion is beginning to gain steam.

    “Recently there's been some long-term literature on the potential association with dental erosions and GERD, indicating that GERD could be a cause of dental erosions in some patients. Dentists should be aware of this type of erosion, and ask patients about these symptoms,” she said.

     

    If GERD is suspected, dentists can refer patients to a specialist, like Dr. Gerson, who may prescribe treatment or recommend lifestyle changes specifically for the treatment of GERD. Dr. Gerson says sufferers should avoid eating dinner within 3 hours of bedtime and avoid eating heavy meals prior to lying down at night.

    “Patients with ongoing reflux symptoms despite medical therapy or alarm symptoms like difficulty swallowing, should undergo further evaluation with endoscopy (placement of a flexible tube into the swallowing pipe),” said Dr. Gerson. “In particular white men over the age of 50 are at risk for precancerous changes in the esophagus and should undergo screening if they have chronic reflux symptoms.”

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    GERD can cause health problems in addition to loss of enamel, including irritation and inflammation of your esophagus, which may even lead to Barrett’s esophagus (a treatable, precancerous condition) and esophageal cancer.

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