You probably don’t think too much about your saliva. But did you know that saliva plays a critical role in your oral health, and that your own spit can help prevent tooth decay? Saliva can also help indicate other health issues, as studies by the U.S. National Institutes of Health have shown. For now, however, grab a glass of water if you’re feeling a bit dry and let’s discuss how saliva can prevent tooth decay.
Saliva’s Ongoing Battle with Bacteria and Sugar
Did you know that there’s a constant war going on inside your mouth? Whenever you eat or drink something that contains sugar or starch (such as candy, soda, bread, milk or juice), the bacteria that lives in your mouth will see this as food and use it to produce acids. This acid eats away at tooth enamel, which can lead to tooth decay. Saliva to the rescue! Saliva contains important minerals like fluoride, calcium and phosphate, so it replaces lost minerals which help the enamel in your teeth repair itself.
What Else Does Saliva Do?
According to the American Dental Association, saliva has other key uses, in addition to replenishing minerals. Your spit, which comes from the blood, provides your mouth’s bloodstream, keeping the hard and soft tissues in your mouth healthy. Lack of saliva means less nutrients flowing, which increases the potential for infection. Saliva also helps to wash away food particles and other debris that can lead to plaque buildup, gum disease and tooth decay. It helps to break down the food that you eat, making swallowing easier and enhancing your ability to taste that food. Saliva also contributes substances that help fight infection and disease.
What Decreases Saliva Flow?
Now that we know how crucial saliva is, what can we do to prevent the dreaded dry mouth? There are many things that can cause your mouth to go dry, from stress and nervousness to certain medications to smoking and alcohol consumption. Age may also play a factor, and people with allergies who are mouth breathers are particularly susceptible to dry mouth during the night or when they wake up in the morning.
How to Increase Saliva Flow
The simple answer to the problem of a dry mouth is to keep yourself hydrated by drinking plenty of water. If you can’t immediately reach for a glass of water, chewing sugar-free gum is a great option. The action of chewing will help increase saliva flow. Look for gum that contains sugar substitutes that are not cavity forming. You can also find gum that has the ADA Seal, which certifies it as “tooth-friendly.”
Tips for Parents
In addition to making sure that babies and young children practice good oral hygiene, there are a few suggestions that can help prevent tooth decay and promote saliva flow. Limit their juice intake by getting them used to drinking plain water. This is especially important before bedtime, since their saliva flow will decrease while they’re sleeping. When they’re old enough, encourage them to chew sugar-free gum rather than sugary gum and other sweet candies.