Why is saliva important?

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Saliva plays an important role in maintaining good oral health.

Key roles of saliva include:

  • Lubrication
    • Tissues of the mouth are strongest, the most effective and most comfortable when they are wet. Saliva lubricates the tissues and teeth keeping the mouth comfortable throughout the day and night.
  • Digestion
    • Saliva contains enzymes that aid in the processing of food before it reaches the stomach and allows for food to be lubricated and “mashed” making it easier to be broken down during digestion.
  • pH buffering
    • Saliva contains pH buffers and aids in raising the pH of the mouth back to a more neutral state (pH of 7).
  • Washing
    • Saliva dilutes and washes away food debris from the mouth keeping the teeth free of unnecessary build up between brushing.
  • Anti-bacterial and anti-microbial
    • Anti-bacterial and anti-microbial agents in the saliva slow down the development of cariogenic (decay causing) bacteria in the mouth.
  • Remineralisation
    • Minerals contained in the saliva such as calcium and phosphate allow demineralised (tooth surface that has been softened or chemically altered) areas on the teeth to remineralise and harden.

A dry mouth or lowered saliva flow is known as xerostomia and is not necessarily a condition but a symptom or side effect and may be either permanent or transient. There are several factors that may affect saliva flow, these include but are not limited to; systemic disease (such as Sjogren’s Syndrome, Parkinson’s disease diabetes and many others), medication, dehydration, blocked salivary ducts or salivary stones, radiation of salivary glands, smoking, sleep apnoea (use of a CPAP machine).

Products are available such as mouth sprays, toothpaste, mouth rinses and oral gel that aim to promote or replace the saliva. The ingredients in these products aim to replicate some of the roles of natural saliva in the mouth and increase a person’s comfort.

Acid wear and how it affects your teeth

Acid wear and how it affects your teeth

Erosion is the loss of natural tooth structure due to the acid present in your mouth, this may be due to diet, reflux or regular or prolonged vomiting. This loss of tooth structure often leads to a very smooth and shiny tooth surface. Erosion can do enough damage that it is able to wear through to the next layer (the dentine) of the tooth often appearing as yellow depressions in the tooth. More severe wear can lead to tooth sensitivity to stimuli such as hot/cold or sweet food and drink.

It is generally understood that a pH level in the mouth any lower than that of 5.5 is able to begin dissolving/softening the enamel surface of a tooth. The critical point at which this happens however varies from person to person depending on the contents, quantity and quality of the saliva.

Dental erosion can often worsen the damage done due to clenching and grinding (attrition) and mechanical wear such as with a toothbrush (abrasion) as the integrity of the tooth surface is already softened or compromised.

Ways to minimise damage to the teeth due to erosion include:

  • Rinsing with water after eating or drinking acidic foods or drinks.
  • Not brushing immediately after eating or waking (times where there is high acid in the mouth).
  • The use of a fluoridated toothpaste to strengthen the enamel surface of the tooth.
  • A tooth mousse regiment to remineralise the tooth surface.
  • Reducing exposure to acidic foods and drinks.
  • Ask your doctor’s advice for treatment of reflux or vomiting.
  • Keep hydrated, this helps to provide the mouth enough saliva to buffer out and wash away some of the acid in the mouth
  • Use a soft toothbrush.
  • Avoid using more abrasive toothpastes such as charcoal toothpaste.
  • If there is evidence of clenching and grinding talk to your dentist about a grinding splint.

When left unchecked dental erosion can lead to significant damage that may require extensive reconstructions to be undertaken in order to give the teeth good appearance and function.