We probably don’t think about our saliva much, but it has a very important role to play. Did you know that our bodies can produce up to four pints of saliva each day of our lives, or the equivalent of filling two swimming pools during our lifetime? Sounds revolting doesn’t it, but saliva actually has a very important role to play in keeping our body strong and healthy.
Saliva is full of acids and bacteria that help to break down our food whilst in our mouth and in the digestive tract. This helps us to utilise the nutrients better once it reaches our stomach (this is why you are told to chew your food properly).
In addition to this, it also contains agents that help to protect our teeth from harmful bacteria and also contains minerals which help to strengthen the enamel on our teeth.
Cleansing the mouth
When we have eaten a meal, our mouths will contain small pieces of food which have become stuck in between our teeth. A healthy saliva flow will start to remove these and also help to protect against the acids and harmful bacteria that can eventually lead to tooth decay. As we have mentioned before, when insufficient saliva is produced, for example, after drinking alcohol, our mouths become dry and harmful bacteria will multiply and start to attack our gums, eventually leading to gingivitis or worse, periodontitis.
Dry mouth syndrome
Whilst it is true that drinking alcohol and smoking are both known causes of insufficient saliva production, it can also happen during certain illnesses, or as a side effect of medication. Older people too, often experience a dry mouth and may explain one of the reasons why gum disease is more common in older people.
For any of our Ipswich dental patients who do suffer from a dry mouth, you may wish to try the following, which many people find helps to stimulate saliva flow.
Drink water frequently. Make sure that you are suitably hydrated. It is better to drink before you are thirsty than wait until you feel dry.
Use sugar free sweets to suck on. Avoid sweets that contain sugar, for obvious reasons, but sucking on a flavoursome sweet should help to encourage more saliva.
Chew sugar free gum. Again, make sure that it really is sugar free. The action of chewing will help to produce saliva. In addition to this, if you chew sugar free gum after a meal, it will help to remove both food debris and bacteria from difficult to reach places. Do not swallow the gum!
Signs & Symptoms of Dry Mouth
Everyone’s mouth feels dry from time to time. It’s when this feeling doesn’t go away that you may have a problem producing saliva.Symptoms of dry mouth include:
- A sticky, dry feeling in the mouth or throat
- Trouble chewing, swallowing, tasting or speaking
- A burning feeling in the mouth
- A dry, rough tongue
- Cracked lips
- Gum irritation
- More frequent tooth decay
- Mouth sores
- Bad breath
Dealing With Dry Mouth
A healthy adult produces about three pints of saliva each day. It’s not the kind of thing you would give thought to very often, but that saliva plays a very important role in maintaining your health.
Saliva serves many purposes. It contains enzymes that aid in digestion. Saliva makes it easier to talk, a fact recognized by those who experience stage fright and the associated dry mouth while giving a presentation.
Saliva also helps prevent tooth decay by washing away food and debris from the teeth and gums. It neutralizes damaging acids, enhances the ability to taste food and makes it easier to swallow. Minerals found in saliva also help repair microscopic tooth decay.
Everyone, at some time or another, experiences dry mouth, also called “xerostomia.” It can happen when you are nervous, upset or under stress or as a result of medication you take or other medical therapies. If dry mouth happens all or most of the time, however, it can be uncomfortable – and it can have serious consequences for your oral health.
Drying irritates the soft tissues in the mouth, which can make them inflamed and more susceptible to infection. Without the cleansing effects of saliva, tooth decay and other oral health problems become much more common.
Regular dental checkups are important. At each appointment, report any medications you are taking and other information about your health. An updated health history can help identify a cause for mouth dryness.
Increasing fluid intake, taking frequent sips of water or sucking on ice chips may help. Your dentist or physician may recommend using artificial saliva, also called “saliva substitute” or “oral moisturizer,” to keep the mouth moist. Avoid tobacco and restrict your intake of caffeine, alcohol and carbonated beverages.
Because dry mouth increases the opportunity for tooth decay and other problems, it is critical that you take good care of your teeth and gums. Brush twice a day, and floss or use another interdental cleaner once a day to remove debris from between the teeth where your toothbrush cannot reach.
Whether you suffer from a dry mouth or not, but especially if you do, make sure to clean and floss your teeth well each day, and ensure that you see both the dentist and hygienist at Trust Dental Care at least every six months. We will monitor your teeth and gums and provide treatments, such as a scale and polish, to help make sure that they remain in good health.