When you think about dental health, it is not likely that you think about saliva as all that important. In fact, however, the saliva in your mouth affects your health and the health of your mouth and teeth significantly. Saliva is absolutely essential for a healthy mouth, gums, and teeth, as well as for your overall system.
Your mouth constantly produces small amounts of saliva that enter the mouth through salivary glands inside your cheeks, under your tongue, and near your jawbone. Your salivary glands increase production when you eat or even just think about or smell food. The average person produces 2-4 pints of saliva daily. So what does this saliva do for your system and why is it important for oral health?
Saliva and Oral Health
Saliva is made up primarily of water, but also contains essential substances such as electrolytes, mucus, antibacterial compounds and various enzymes. Saliva moistens the mouth for comfort, lubricates food as you chew and swallow, and neutralizes harmful acids. In addition, saliva kills germs, prevents bad breath, protects enamel, defends against tooth decay, aids in preventing gum disease, and speeds up healing of wounds within the mouth. Saliva is important and is essential for the protection and health of your mouth and teeth!
Bacteria on your teeth is the main cause of tooth decay. Saliva coats your teeth with a thin film to buffer against this bacteria, and the saliva itself contains antimicrobial agents to kill the bacteria before it even reaches your teeth. As well, saliva protects your teeth by sweeping away tiny food particles that can feed any bacteria that does find its way to your teeth.
When you eat, your food leaves behind acidic residue which breaks down tooth enamel over time. Saliva serves a helpful purpose as it neutralizes these acids and washes them away after you eat. As well, the saliva can actually repair the protective surface on your tooth through a process known as remineralization.
Saliva also aids in the digestive process. The substances within saliva help aid the digestive processes within the mouth, include moistening food and helping to prepare the food for easy swallowing and digestion. It also contains the enzyme amylase that breaks down starches into maltose and dextrin. Essentially, the digestion of food begins in the mouth and saliva is absolutely essential to that process.
Dry mouth, or xerostomia, is a condition in which individuals do not make enough saliva. As a result of this condition, due to the essential nature of saliva, oral health declines quickly. The lack of saliva accelerates the progression of tooth decay and gum disease, not to mention discomfort and difficulty swallowing and digesting food. Halitosis, or bad breath, is also a common occurrence.
If you think you may suffer from dry mouth, it is essential that you take proactive measures to make sure that reduced saliva production does not affect your oral and overall health in the long term. Here are a few ideas on how to address this issue:
-Drink plenty of water, as saliva production is dependent upon adequate hydration.
-Sometimes dry mouth can be a side effect of certain medications. Check with your doctor to see if this is the case.
-Chewing sugar-free gum or mints can help increase saliva production.
-Minimize the consumption of salty, spicy, or highly acidic foods, as these have a tendency to irritate and dry out your mouth.
-Reduce your consumption of alcohol or caffeinated beverages, as these also have a tendency to dry out your mouth.
-Swish your mouth several times daily with a solution of 2 tsp. baking soda and 8 oz. water to reduce the Ph level in your mouth.
In addition to these measures, if you think dry mouth could be affecting your overall oral health, talk to our office to discuss your concerns. We can help you with a treatment plan to help minimize the damage of dry mouth and help protect your teeth and oral health for the long term.
River Valley Smile Center is your family’s partner for long-term dental health and is here to help you and your family maintain optimal oral health for a lifetime. To schedule an appointment, call our friendly office staff at 479.646.0706 or, for your convenience, fill out an appointment request here: https://www.ident.ws/template_include/new_patient_sign_in.do?site=10348&practiceId=35766.