Saliva is the body’s most important protection against tooth decay
- Lubricates the mouth
- Washes away food debris
- Acts as an anti-microbial and cleanser by breaking down bacterial cell walls and inhibiting growth
- Contains bicarbonate, which acts as a buffer by neutralizing acid production and controlling plaque pH
- Protects the enamel by using calcium and phosphates to help repair tooth decay
Our saliva controls the environment of the teeth and provides the body’s own natural protection against tooth decay. According to Dr. Mark Manhart DDS, nothing cleans your teeth better than your own saliva as it is low in salt and anti-microbial. Additionally, according to the Archives of Internal Medicine, saliva is an excellent "buffer" for the entire mouth, as our saliva is ‘supersaturated’ using the ions which make up the mineral content of the teeth (calcium, phosphate and hydroxyl ions) .
In a healthy person the loss of minerals is naturally balanced by saliva. As long as the plaque's pH is above 5.5 pH, the calcium and phosphate ions from saliva can repair the damaged mineral crystals from the enamel. However, when the pH level is below 5.5 (acidic), the saliva and plaque are unsaturated and demineralization occurs -- which basically means that teeth soften and even dissolve.
Stimulated saliva contains more calcium and bicarbonate and has a higher pH than unstimulated saliva. Therefore, chewing gums actually helps keep the teeth healthy. However, only if the gum is free of any sugars (in any form) or sweeteners (except maybe Stevia). Unfortunately, the vast majority of chewing gums available in the grocery stores contain harmful chemicals, including artificial sweeteners. However, natural alternatives are available at local health food stores.
- Sugary and Starchy Foods & Drinks: After eating and drinking, bacteria ferment the starches and sugars found in many food and beverage items - thus producing acid. Within 5 to 10 minutes after a meal or drink, the acid can cause the pH to drop low enough for minerals from the tooth’s enamel to be dissolved. This process is referred to as " demineralization."
- Dry mouth - Insufficient Flow of Saliva
Some dentists and scientists claim that 100% of all cavities can be prevented by simply rinsing out the acids after each meal and each sugary beverage. The good news is that the plaque pH rises when the acids are washed out and neutralized by saliva as the bicarbonate helps stop demineralization.
The saliva's calcium and phosphate content can then go one step further and help repair the damaged mineral crystals from the enamel. This is referred to as "remineralization".
An increased saliva flow actively reduces demineralization and improves the rate of remineralization.
Dry Mouth / Insufficient Flow of Saliva:
Dry mouth plays a tremendous role in the development of cavities, fungal infections and tooth loss (details explained above).
- Consuming caffeine, smoking, and chewing tobacco
- Radiation therapy of the salivary gland regions
- Salivary Gland Disorders
- Side effect of medication, such as antihistamines, many allergy medications, drugs used to treat high blood pressure, depression and heart disease
- Systemic diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Sjögren’s syndrome, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease
- Pathologic changes from the salivary glands
- Sjogren's Syndrome (autoimmune disease)
- Associated Health Concerns:
- Home Remedies:
- Drink plenty of water - take frequent sips. Swish the water around your mouth and through your teeth.
- Suck on sugarless candy or breath mints; or chew sugarless gum with xylitol throughout the day to help stimulate your salivary glands. The more you chew, the more saliva you produce - provided you have fully functioning salivary glands. If the glands don't work, chewing won't help.
- Chewing on crushed ice not only moistens your mouth, it also demands the jaw action necessary to activate the salivary glands
- Liquid diets are becoming an increasingly common cause of dry mouth as it reduces your need to chew thus decreasing the output of saliva.
- A diet high in fiber stimulates your salivary glands as it also requires chewing.
- A lack of riboflavin, vitamin A or a vitamin B12 deficiency can cause a dry mouth
- Avoid sugar and starches as bacteria ferment them thus producing acid which dissolves tooth enamel
- Moisten the air (air humidification)
- Oral hygiene is of utmost importance
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