Saliva is wonderful! Saliva is our friend—really.
My fascination with saliva has been growing. I see people chewing gum at meetings, filling up their water containers, and stopping for gas on a road trip and getting something to drink. They sometimes pop hard candy into their mouths or buy various mouth-hydrating products. It finally hit me—people need to keep their mouths moist. Keeping your mouth hydrated is a challenge for many of us and is important to do. There must be something going on with people and dry mouths!
My dentist, Dr. Tracy Poole, DDS, of Dental Group West, Toledo, has practiced dentistry for over 20 years. Since my dental office not only keeps their patients’ teeth healthy, they add another tool for a healthy mouth: education. I never leave the office without learning something about my teeth and how to keep them healthy. My last visit, I saw many products in the office to help lessen dry mouth.
I asked Dr. Poole who gets dry mouth and how it affects our teeth. She said, “Dry mouth is a common contributor, in today’s population, to patients’ susceptibility to develop dental decay. We have seen a spike currently in our dental patients’ decay rates due to the increasing number of medications for medical treatments. Part of this spike is due to the baby boomers’ aging population, and part is due to the ability to treat more conditions with medications.”
Elaborating on who gets dry mouth, she explained, “Patients who have been treated for head and neck cancers (both with chemotherapy and with radiation) have an increased risk for dry mouth, as well as patients using inhalers, antihistamines, multiple blood pressure medications, and antidepressants. Many patients with autoimmune disorders are also susceptible to dry mouth and increased risk for decay, with Sjogren’s syndrome being the most common.” (Sjogren’s syndrome is a chronic, slowly progressive, inflammatory autoimmune disorder that interferes with the normal function or reduction or cessation in the production and secretion of saliva and tears.)
My gentle dental hygienist, Kim Langenderfer, RDH, is one of my dental care teachers. She explains the importance of saliva: “Saliva moistens, lubricates, aids in digestion, and protects against dental disease.” She says saliva helps us speak and eat since digestion actually starts in the mouth—because of enzymes in our saliva. Basically, saliva keeps our swallowing, eating, and overall digestion running smoothly. The light went on in my head: something as common and humble as saliva keeps our bodies in order. I can remember many times when it was hard for me to eat a meal because my mouth was parched!
Saliva buffers the mouth’s pH (pH is a measure of acidity or alkalinity). The mouth should have more alkalinity to prevent cavities.
I visit my dentist’s office twice a year for cleaning and X-rays and realize the importance of preventive dentistry. What I have especially learned is the importance of keeping my mouth hydrated. I drink water and suck on sugar-free hard candy to keep my mouth moist so bacteria that can cause tooth decay are kept away from my mouth. I wondered, “What else can I do to avoid dry mouth?”
During my last cleaning visit, I asked Kim about some of the dental products on display in her office. There is Biotene, a dry mouth rinse, spray, or gel; “Ice chips” candy or “Xyloblasts,” a sugar-free candy containing Xylitol that actually inhibits the growth of “bad” bacteria; Aquoral, a prescription, lipid-based oral spray; ACT Total Care, a dry-mouth fluoride rinse; and Clinpro 5000, a prescription fluoride toothpaste, available only in dental offices.
Dr. Tracy Poole shared a slogan of many dentists today: “Healthy mouth, healthy body.” That makes me try to keep my mouth as hydrated and my mouth and teeth as healthy as I can! There are some simple ways all of us can avoid tooth decay by keeping our mouths moist.
I say it again: “Saliva rocks!”