written by Jimmy Kilimitzoglou, DDS of e.s.i. Healthy Dentistry
Ever wonder how some people don’t really brush and floss but don’t get cavities? And why is it that some people are so diligent about their oral hygiene yet every time they go to the dentist they get a cavity? Maybe it’s genetic. “I have soft teeth,” they say. Or maybe it’s their spit! Spit? What does that have to do with anything?
You would be amazed at how many things our saliva is responsible for. It has immune, digestive functions, antibacterial properties, it contributes to speech, chewing, swallowing, protecting your gums and strengthening of your teeth. Let’s find out how.
There are antibodies in saliva called IgG and IgA that fight against harmful intruders such as bacteria and fungi. It also has T lymphocytes that go to battle and keep our mouths disease free. Enzymes called lactoferrin, lysozyme and peroxidase aid in the breakdown of harmful substances. Speaking of enzymes, saliva has amylase, the first enzyme that we use to start the digestive process. It goes to work early in order to break down food and intensify taste. Spend a few more seconds chewing that next delicious bite and you’ll know what I mean.
Saliva has a buffering capacity so that when we have an acid challenge, it can get the pH to a more normal, alkaline level. The critical level is 5.5 on the pH scale. If it’s lower than that, it is dangerously acidic and that will dissolve enamel, leading to hot, cold, sweet sensitivity, ultimately producing cavities.
Saliva can prevent bad breath! When bacteria are concentrated they can cause a foul odor and taste in your mouth. The solution to pollution is dilution. By diluting the bacteria it eliminates bad breath. This dilution effect constantly bathes the teeth, gums, tongue and lining of the cheeks which restores balance to our microbiome. The mouth is an ecosystem, kinda like a forest, a lake or river. All the micro organisms need to be in harmony and they help each other thrive.
Good salivary flow is important because it lubricates the mouth. As it does this, it helps with speech and ensures that words are pronounced smoothly. This moisturizing effect protects the lining of the mouth from canker sores or trauma and helps with chewing and swallowing. If it wasn’t for saliva we would cut, burn or scrape the inside of our mouths every time we eat crunchy foods, spicy and acidic foods.
Lastly it supplies minerals like calcium and phosphate which help remineralize our teeth making them resistant to acids, cavities and chipping.
There are simple yet powerful tests available to analyze your saliva. We first test your resting saliva. How much saliva do you produce when you do nothing? Is it normal or too low? Then we test your resting saliva pH. This will give us insight regarding the acidity level in your mouth. Next comes stimulated saliva where you chew some paraffin wax for 5 minutes. We measure the volume of saliva and analyze it to see if it is normal. The analysis also looks at the quality of the saliva; is it too viscous, too frothy or just right? Finally we examine the buffering capacity. This evaluates if the saliva is capable of buffering and neutralizing the acidity. All this information can then help us customize a preventive protocol just for you. Whether it is using xylitol gum to stimulate more saliva, mineral paste to neutralize the acidity or increasing water consumption. There is no cookie cutter approach; every treatment is customized for each individual so your mouth is optimized to its best potential; and you deserve it!