Objective: The purpose of the study was to evaluate if there is a link between salivary pepsin levels and tooth erosion. Also, to determine if gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is responsible for much of the tooth erosion seen by dentists.
Background: Pepsin is only produced within the stomach. If found within other parts of the body [for example within saliva or sputum samples], the only mechanism by which that would be possible is via the reflux of gastric contents. One of the causes of dental erosion is thought to be due to direct contact between tooth surfaces and acidic substances and digestive enzymes present in gastric refluxate. GERD is a common condition, with its prevalence seemingly trending higher in recent decades. It is reportedly a known cause of tooth erosions. From the hypothesis, there was an expectation to see patients with dental erosions to have pepsin detected [and perhaps at high levels] and to see patients without dental erosions to have no or low levels of pepsin.
Method: Three saliva samples were collected [on waking and 2 post-prandial] from 50 anonymous participating patients (26 females, 24 males) from a single dental practice. Extra information was collected related to lifestyle, Reflux Symptom Index (RSI – reflux questionnaire) and tooth erosions. These samples were analyzed for the stomach enzyme pepsin using the validated medical device Peptest.
Results: There was no correlation between positive pepsin levels and the presence of tooth erosion during this study. There was a statistical difference between the on waking pH vs. positive pepsin levels and post prandial pH vs. positive pepsin levels. The average pH was lower for on waking and post-prandial samples with positive pepsin, suggesting that the saliva was acidic and gastric reflux had occurred. Conversely, the average pH was higher for on waking and post-prandial samples with negative pepsin. There was no statistical difference between pH vs. tooth erosion in the on waking and post- prandial.
Conclusion: Patients identified as having tooth erosion did not have higher levels of pepsin detected, suggesting that pepsin was not associated with dental erosion in these patients.