This Everyday Oral Hygiene Product May Be Causing Your Heartburn
A couple years ago, I noticed that certain foods and drinks gave me serious acid reflux. I cut down on the usual triggers: coffee, fatty foods, hot sauce, and chocolate. However, my symptoms persisted. They seemed worse in the early morning and late evening, well before I had breakfast and well after I had eaten my last meal of the day. That’s when something clicked – the familiar burning sensation always started up after I brushed my teeth. Was my toothpaste a heartburn trigger?
A quick Google search told me that it was very possible. Even though I wasn’t swallowing the toothpaste, (and I hope no one is doing that!) the mint in the product was enough to create that familiar burning sensation.
Why might mint toothpaste cause heartburn?
“Mint products, specifically compounds in mint oil, may cause the esophageal sphincter to relax,” Greg Grillo, DDS, dentist for Express Dentist, tells Woman’s World. “Relaxed sphincter muscles make it possible for acid or bile to move up the esophagus, enter the oral cavity, and increase the risk of damage.”
A 2019 study published in Diseases of the Esophagus found that the culprit is menthol, the chemical naturally found in peppermint and spearmint. As the researchers observed, menthol created nonpainful, cold sensations in the esophagus in healthy participants. In participants with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), however, menthol caused painful heartburn.
As a result, other minty hygiene products, like mouthwash, can cause similar symptoms. Mouthwash may also cause acid reflux for other reasons. “If mouth tissue has been affected by regurgitation, a mouthwash that contains alcohol can dry the mouth and cause more irritation,” adds Dr. Grillo.
Why is it important to eliminate this heartburn trigger?
While you may only use mint toothpaste and mouthwash once or twice a day, constant irritation can add up. “Stomach acid has a pH between 1 and 3, which is just below battery acid,” Dr. Grillo says. “While this helps break down food, it can significantly damage teeth. Tooth enamel, the hardest substance in our bodies, is a crystallized mineral. But acids can weaken and erode this protective layer, especially when exposed to repetitive regurgitations.”
In addition, the acidity of certain oral hygiene products can cause damage in and of itself. “And any acidic food, beverage, or rinse can amplify the effects of GERD on the oral cavity,” says Dr. Grillo. Toothpaste usually has a mildly basic pH, but mouthwash tends to be on the acidic side. Some dentists believe that mouthwash can erode your enamel.
What oral hygiene products should you try if you have heartburn?
It might sound impossible to find mint-free products, but they’re out there! “Mint toothpaste dominates the market, but there are many alternatives to consider,” Dr. Grillo says. “Other options from major brands include watermelon, bubble gum, strawberry, and more. Consider a formula that contains fluoride or other minerals. Recaldent is a compound that binds two natural minerals to strengthen enamel, and it can be found in various products including MI Paste.” The MI Paste comes in a variety of flavors, including melon (Buy from Dental Health Essentials, $19.99).
As for a mint-free mouthwash, consider buying a kid version, such as the Organic Hello Kids Rinse in Watermelon Flavor (Buy from iHerb, $7.99). It might feel strange to shop in the kid’s section, but it’s worth it if mint-free products don’t trigger heartburn.
I myself have been using an all-natural strawberry toothpaste (Buy from Dr. Jen, $16). While it doesn’t give me that cool, minty feeling or foam up nearly as well, I no longer have heartburn in the mornings or evenings. (And if I still want my breath to smell fresh, I brush just my tongue with a tiny dab of mint toothpaste and quickly rinse it out.) It’s good to know that relief is possible and that I can keep my teeth just as clean!
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