Saliva – Its Role In Your Oral Health
Why a dry mouth can present oral care problems.
It’s probably something that we don’t talk about very much, yet the average human being produces an amount of saliva equivalent to approximately two swimming pools over our lifetime.
Like all functions of our bodies, it has a key role to play, and one area where it is especially important is in our oral care.
Although not producing enough saliva, and therefore having a dry mouth, may feel generally unpleasant, the problems it produces go much further, as we shall see below.
What is saliva?
Saliva is produced by the salivary glands within our mouth and is predominantly made up of water. This is not the only component though and it also contains important proteins and minerals that help to protect our teeth. It also contains millions of bacteria. Some of these are what we generally refer to as good bacteria, that help to fight off infections and also play an important role in breaking down our food as we chew, so that it is easier for us to digest.
As our Bedfordshire blog readers will know, there are also bacteria that, if not kept under control, can lead to gum diseases including gingivitis and periodontitis. Good quality saliva flow helps to keep this under control, along with regular brushing and flossing at home. Poor saliva production though, can lead to a number of dental problems.
As mentioned above, poor saliva flow leaves patients with a dry mouth and this often occurs at night while we sleep. It is this type of warm and dry environment which allows bacteria to grow out of control. As the number of bacteria in our mouths increase, the likelihood of gum disease becomes much higher.
Saliva not only provides important minerals and proteins that help to keep our teeth strong and healthy, but also helps to flush away food debris that becomes stuck between our teeth. A lack of saliva means that food particles often remain between our teeth for much longer, eventually breaking down into sugars and acids that can lead to tooth decay.
As bacteria thrive and start to eat away at the soft tissues of our gums, they produce gases (basically, the equivalent to flatulence). This and any decaying material can cause our breath to become very smelly indeed. This is a condition often known as halitosis.
Saliva flow plays an important role in keeping these problems at bay. Seeing the hygienist at The Dental Centre Bedford also plays an important part and we would encourage our patients to do this every six months or so.
Why do some people have dry mouths?
Dry mouth syndrome can happen for a number of reasons. Older people, in general, produce less saliva than younger ones, but there are other things too such as whether we drink or smoke. Both of these habits greatly increase the risk of leaving the patient with a regular dry mouth. Lack of hydration is another common cause of this problem, and some medicines can also cause this as a side effect. Diabetics are also more likely to have a dry mouth than the rest of the population.
How can you improve saliva flow?
The most obvious thing that you can do to avoid having a dry mouth is to make sure that you stay well hydrated. This should be done by drinking plenty of water regularly, and certainly not through the consumption of high sugar fizzy drinks. This will help to reduce some of the effects if you drink or smoke too, though it will not resolve them entirely.
Chewing sugar-free gum will also help to stimulate the salivary glands, helping you to produce more saliva. This is also useful for removing small pieces of food from the teeth too. Make sure that the gum is sugar free though and not a regular gum that contains tooth harming sugar.
If medication side effects are a cause, then you may need to talk to your doctor to see if there is a suitable alternative available. Do not stop taking any medication without your GP agreeing to it though.
Finally, there are medical products available that may help. You can talk to your doctor about these but we suggest that you try the methods above first of all. If symptoms persists, always seek medical guidance.
If you have a persistently dry mouth, you are at an increased risk of a number of oral health issues as you can see from this blog. You may need to see a dental hygienist more regularly too, perhaps every three months or so, to stay on top of any potential gum health issues.
Of course, you should also make sure that you see your dentist regularly too. If you would like to make an appointment at The Dental Centre Bedford, please call us on 01234 819868.