Saliva might just be the most underrated soldier in our fight against cavities or tooth decay. By far, you may have tried different kinds of toothpaste and treatments, to remove that tiny black spot on your tooth that totally kills your smile. Little might you know, your greatest defense against cavities has been with you the whole time. That weapon is saliva.
Yes, saliva is not just to spit on others but it serves several primary functions for our oral health, eating, and digestion. Protecting our teeth from cavities is one of them as well. Since you are here, probably you’ve suffered from cavities or tooth decay at some point in life.
Treating cavities may ask for several clinical procedures such as fillings but preventing our teeth from cavities is very achievable with few hygienic practices. Besides we have good ol’ saliva to help us. Most of us might not even know the importance of saliva in tooth care.
What is saliva?
Saliva is a watery liquid produced by salivary glands in the mouth. It is mostly water but also comprises mucus, white blood cells, antimicrobial agents, proteins, and an enzyme known as amylase. Saliva has certain key functions in our body including chewing, digesting, and protecting our teeth.
What is a cavity?
Cavities, also known as tooth decay, are the damaged area on your tooth that opens up to tiny holes or cracks. If left untreated, this hole gradually increases in size and adopts a dark or yellowish color.
How does cavity affect us?
Cavities are among the most common oral health issue that many of us don’t take seriously. Many parents unknowingly ignore the severity of cavities in children assuming their teeth are not permanent and will simply re-grow. However, research shows that tooth decay and cavities can have severe and prolonged consequences if not treated in time. The same goes for children as well.
Some complications caused by cavities are:
- Swelling around a tooth
- Damaged teeth
- Tooth loss
- Problem chewing
- Tooth abscess
What causes cavities?
When we have our meal, often food particles are left clinging to our teeth afterward. This food debris still hanging on our teeth can lead to serious oral problems. Sweet and starchy foods like bread, chips, and candies expose our teeth to sugar for longer periods and thus make the tooth enamel at risk of acid attack.
This acid can be called plaque acid that is produced by the bacteria living in our mouth. This plaque acid is highly affected by the bacteria brought over by the food we eat. The pH of this acid falls every time due to the addition of bacterial acid that is produced commonly by fermentable carbohydrates found in food and drinks.
Plaque acid has a critical pH of 5.5 below which, it becomes unsaturated in regards to tooth minerals. Thus, plaque acid targets our teeth and dissolves vital minerals on their surface, leaving the teeth weakened. Once the tooth enamel has been compromised, teeth became more prone to tooth decay and eventually form cavities.
How does saliva help prevent cavities?
Saliva is our key weapon against tooth decay as it helps prevent cavities in not one but multiple ways. Firstly, saliva washes away the leftover food debris in our mouths.
This important step protects us from cavities as it halts the oral bacteria to produce harmful plaque acid that attacks and destroys tooth enamel. When saliva washes away the food particles, it minimizes the risk of bacterial infestation in the mouth and prevents plaque buildup.
The antimicrobial agents present in saliva can differentiate between bad and good bacteria in the mouth. They ward off the harmful bacteria that lead to cavities and helps maintain a healthy pH balance in the mouth.
Secondly, saliva covers are teeth in a thin layer that acts as a safeguard from harmful acid. Saliva is rich in nutrients such as calcium, fluoride, and phosphate that not only protects the teeth but also rebuild and strengthen them.
If somehow starch particles are still left behind in the mouth, the enzyme amylase found in saliva breaks down those particles and dissolves them.
Saliva is our natural defense against plaque, bacteria, and various oral diseases. Without an adequate amount of saliva, our dental health is at great risk of tooth decay and cavities. Therefore, it is recommended to intake a decent amount of water as saliva itself is 98% water.
Can less saliva production cause cavities
Saliva is an integral part of our oral functioning that simply can’t be neglected. Some certain conditions and drugs adversely affect saliva production in the mouth. For instance, a condition called xerostomia occurs when a mouth does not produce enough saliva.
As a result, the mouth becomes very dry and causes our tongue and gums to swallow. Such kind of dry conditions is preferable for germs that then lead to bad breath.
A dry mouth with an inadequate amount of saliva becomes a thriving ground of cavities and gum diseases. With too little saliva to combat bacteria, the risk for tooth decay increases. A dry mouth enhances the chance of tooth decay as the main job of saliva is to wash away leftover food particles in the mouth.
Also, the enzyme amylase helps in digestion by breaking down those food particles. However, without saliva, the food particles are left unbroken and still clinging to our teeth.
The bacteria from this food debris infest the mouth and interfere with the normal pH of the plaque acid. This causes the plaque acid to become more harmful and attack our teeth to extort them of necessary minerals. As a result, the tooth enamel becomes damaged with tiny holes that overtime become cavities.
What causes less saliva production?
- Salivary gland disorders
As you can guess, a salivary gland malfunction causes too little saliva production leading to severe consequences and impacting on the quality of life. Xerostomia is one such Salivary gland disorder. Its common symptoms are constant thirst, hard to swallow food, and difficulty in eating and speaking.
The leading cause for dry mouth is medications and their side-effects. A lot of common medicines are linked to prompting salivary glands to produce less saliva. Some of these medicines are as follows:
- Muscle relaxants
- Pain killers
- Medicines for high blood pressure
- Overactive bladder medications
- Medicines for anxiety
Dry mouth may be a result of inadequate water intake during the day or dehydration due to intense physical exercise. Stress and nervousness may also sometimes cause our mouth to dry temporarily. Cancer treatments like chemotherapy or radiation therapy also affect the working of salivary glands and hence cause dry mouth.
Other causes of saliva reduction are:
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases such as AIDS/HIV
- Parkinson’s disease
- Adrenaline rush; Ever felt your mouth dry when getting bullied?
- Salivary duct conditions
How to increase saliva production
On average, a normal body produces 2-4 spits or 0.5 to 1.5 liters of saliva per day. Saliva production is highest in the late afternoon while lowest at night. However, saliva is most produced when eating or chewing. Some useful techniques to stimulate saliva production are as follows:
- Eating fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Eating high-fiber foods such as apples and carrots. Chewing such foods stimulates saliva in the mouth.
- Drinking an adequate amount of water daily and avoid dehydration.
- Chewing sugar-free gum can drastically increase saliva production by almost 10 times.
- Use of supplements such as Steel Bite Pro which contain herbal ingredients outlined in the points above.
Is saliva alone enough to prevent cavities?
Saliva may help fighting tooth decay but it is not a substitute for routine oral health care and hygienic practices. We wouldn’t have so many dental care products if this wasn’t the case.
Therefore, dental health experts advise adopting good hygienic habits to prevent cavities and other oral diseases. We can begin with the following practices:
- Brush daily
Dental care experts suggest brushing twice a day, ideally after having meals. It’s best to brush using fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride strengthens our teeth and acts as a protective shield.
- Avoid sugary foods and drinks
Sugary foods and beverages are one of the biggest contributors to tooth decay. Such snacks and soft drinks have a high content of fermentable carbohydrates that stimulates bad bacteria production in the mouth.
- Maintain a healthy diet
Fresh fruits and vegetables not just stimulate saliva flow that helps in oral health but are good for your overall well-being. Caffeinated drinks, without sugar, also help in washing away food debris and preventing cavities.
- See a dentist regularly
Consulting a dentist is a reliable way to diagnose any potential dental condition and getting the best advice to treat them. Your dentist can suggest a routine or diet that works best for your oral health.
Relying on your saliva alone would not be a smart thing to do with all the dental care products available. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and practicing good oral habits can help prevent cavities in the long run.
That being said, how about you take a moment out of your routine to pay tribute to saliva for being the frontline soldier in the fight against tooth decay?