Salivary Gland Disease Dental Health

If you’ve ever sat in a dentist’s chair, waiting for the chance to “rinse and spit,” you know that saliva is a big part of dental care. But you might not know the function of saliva in preventing tooth decay.

Without saliva, teeth are at the mercy of acids in the mouth that form after we eat food. Preventing tooth decay isn’t the only function of saliva–it actually helps reverse the process. Saliva helps limit the growth of oral bacteria that can cause bad breath. Basically, trying to have a healthy mouth without saliva is like trying to drive a car without motor oil.

The Buffering Function of Saliva

After you eat or drink, plaque bacteria in your mouth begins to ferment the sugars and starches in the food, which produces acid. Within 5 to 10 minutes of eating, this acid causes the pH level of the plaque on your teeth to drop to a level low enough to dissolve the tooth’s enamel. This can eventually lead to tooth decay.

Fortunately, at any point in time, we usually have about a milliliter of saliva in our mouths; and, through dilution and washing away food remnants, it keeps our oral environment from getting too acidic. Saliva helps keep acidic plaque from attaching too easily to our teeth.

With Saliva, Teeth Re-Mineralize

Saliva helps prevent tooth decay in another important way. The process of acidic plaque eating away at tooth enamel is called “demineralization.”

When teeth build themselves back up again, it’s called “re-mineralization,” and supporting this process is a key function of saliva. Saliva may be 99 percent water, but the other 1 percent contains some pretty important substances, like calcium, phosphate and bicarbonate. These are the key ingredients involved in rebuilding teeth and preventing tooth decay.

The Antimicrobial Function of Saliva

The average adult produces about half a liter, or a little more than a pint, of saliva each day. All this fluid running through the mouth helps keep the bacteria in your mouth from getting out of control.

You might have noticed that having a dry mouth and a tendency to bad breath seem to go together. That’s because your mouth needs regular, frequent rinsing to prevent bacterial build-up, which can cause bad breath, and worse. For example, without this preventive function of saliva, fungal infections can take hold in your mouth, as can plaque and gum disease.

Thanks to the many roles of saliva, teeth and overall oral health can be maintained. However, even with a plentiful supply of saliva, teeth still need regular brushing and flossing to maintain optimum oral health.

Resources

Animated-Teeth.com. (2010). How does saliva help to prevent tooth decay? Retrieved September 27, 2010, from http://www.animated-teeth.com/tooth_decay/t6_tooth_decay_adults.htm.

Puy, C.L. (2006). The role of saliva in maintaining oral health and as an aid to diagnosis. Retrieved September 27, 2010, from http://scielo.isciii.es/pdf/medicorpa/v11n5/en_15.pdf.

University of Iowa Health Science Relations. (2003). Saliva: It protects our mouth. Retrieved September 27, 2010, from http://www.uihealthcare.com/topics/medicaldepartments/dentistry/saliva/index.html.

WrigleyDentalCare.com. (n.d.). Saliva. Retrieved September 27, 2010, from the http://www.betteroralhealth.info/orbit_us/general-public-area/inside-the-mouth/saliva/index.htm.