Posts for: February, 2019
We often don't realize how important something is until it's gone. Like saliva: you're usually not aware that it's cleaning the mouth, neutralizing mouth acid or helping with digestion. But that could change if your saliva flow drops below normal: your health may soon suffer with your mouth taking the brunt.
In particular, reduced saliva flow increases your risk for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Both diseases are linked to oral bacteria. While many of the myriad strains in the mouth are beneficial, a few bacteria can infect and inflame gum tissues. Bacteria also produce acid, which can soften and erode enamel and make the teeth more susceptible to decay.
Saliva inhibits bacteria in a number of ways. It first clears the mouth of leftover food so not as much stays behind to form bacterial plaque, a thin film of food particles that builds up on teeth. You still need to brush and floss daily to remove plaque, but it's less effective without saliva's cleansing action. Saliva also contains antibodies that destroy disease-causing bacteria and other organisms, which keeps their populations in the mouth low.
One of saliva's most important functions, though, is buffering acid. The mouth's ideal pH level is neutral, but many foods we eat can cause it to become more acidic.Â Even a slight acidic rise after eating can soften the minerals in enamel. But saliva goes to work immediately and usually restores normal pH within a half hour to an hour. It also aids in re-mineralizing the enamel.
For these reasons, it's important for you to find out the cause of chronic dry mouth and treat it. If it's a side effect of your medication, talk to your doctor about an alternative, or drink more water before and after you take your dose. Certain products can also stimulate saliva flow, like chewing gum with xylitol, an alcohol-based sweetener that has dental health-protecting properties too.
Although you often don't notice this unsung bodily fluid swishing in your mouth, it's important that you take care of it. Keeping your saliva flowing will help ensure better oral health.
If you would like more information on the importance of saliva to health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Saliva: How it is used to Diagnose Disease.”
While oral hygiene, a nutritious diet and regular dental visits are all crucial to long-term oral health, these efforts complement what your body already does to keep your mouth healthy. One of the major players in this function is saliva.
Produced by hundreds of glands located throughout the mouth, saliva does much more than help you swallow and wash away food. As you chew, an enzyme in saliva known as amylase breaks down starches in your food to make it easier to digest in the stomach. Saliva also contains antibodies, similar to what’s in tears, which can fight bacteria and other disease-causing organisms.
Perhaps its most important function, though, is its ability to protect and maintain healthy tooth enamel. The strongest substance in the body, enamel nevertheless has one primary enemy — the acid found in certain foods or as a byproduct of bacteria feeding on sugar and other carbohydrates.
When the ideally neutral pH level of the mouth becomes too acidic (nearly every time you eat), minerals in the enamel begin to soften and dissolve. The increased saliva flow when we eat floods the mouth with buffering agents that neutralize the acid and restore the mouth’s normal pH level. Not only does saliva stop demineralization, but it also restores a good bit of the enamel’s mineral content.
In recent years, a new role for saliva has begun to emerge as a means to diagnose disease. Like blood, urine and other bodily fluids, saliva contains molecules that serve as biological markers for disease. Given the right equipment, saliva has the potential to indicate early signs of cancer (including oral), diabetes and other systemic conditions. As the means to examine saliva for these markers increases it promises to be easier and less expensive to collect and sample than blood, while reducing the chances of transmitting bloodborne diseases to healthcare workers.
It’s a lot to consider with this fluid that you hardly notice, except when it isn’t there. Saliva is proof that our efforts at keeping our mouths healthy cooperate and depend on our bodies’ amazing systems.
If you would like more information on saliva and other ways your body maintains a healthy mouth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Saliva.”
Preventing tooth decay is mostly about the basics: daily brushing and flossing followed by regular dental cleanings and checkups. But there’s also a bigger picture: your own personal risk profile for decay based on factors you can modify directly — and those you can’t.
The first type of factor usually involves habits and behavior that either work with your mouth’s natural defenses to fight decay or against it. Besides regular hygiene, your diet is probably the most important of these you can modify for better dental health.
A diet rich in fresh vegetables, protein and dairy products boosts strong, healthy teeth resistant to decay. Conversely, bacteria thrive on the sugar in many snack foods, while sodas, sports or energy drinks elevate acid levels that soften and erode the minerals in your teeth’s enamel.
Lifestyle habits like tobacco use or excessive alcohol consumption also increase your decay risk. Not only do they promote plaque buildup (the thin film of bacteria and food particles that feeds the decay process), but tobacco especially can impede the body’s natural prevention and healing properties.
Conscientious hygiene practices, a dental-friendly diet and modified lifestyle habits all can help you prevent decay. But diligence may not be enough — there are other possible factors you can’t control or may find difficult to change. For example, you may have a genetic propensity toward certain bacteria that cause decay. You may have a condition like gastric reflux that increases the mouth’s acid level. You may also be taking medications that reduce saliva flow, the mouth’s natural acid neutralizer.
But if we know which of these indirect risk factors affect you, we can compensate with extra measures. If enamel strength is a problem we can topically apply fluoride; we can also reduce chronic bacterial levels with prescription rinses. If you have restricted saliva flow, we can attempt to modify your prescriptions through your doctor or prescribe aids that increase saliva.
The key is to investigate your complete risk factor profile through a thorough dental examination. Once we know everything about your mouth, life and health that increases your decay risk, we can put in place a balanced strategy of prevention and treatment just for you. Doing so will greatly increase your chances for keeping your teeth decay-free and healthy.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating dental disease, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Tooth Decay: How to Assess Your Risk.”