How Saliva Protects Your Teeth

How Saliva Protects Your Teeth

How Saliva Protects Teeth

Before I came to dental school, visit this site store I worked at a dental clinic that served those with little or no financial resources.  I remember vividly a young woman in her twenties who had to have all of her teeth extracted.  All of her teeth had extensive decay.  She had used methamphetamine for years before coming to see us.  We were able to make her dentures.  While the dentures worked great, recipe they simply aren’t the same as natural teeth.

Commonly known as crystal meth, meth, crank, speed, glass, or over 100 other different names, methamphetamine can literally ruin your mouth in a very short time.

Seven Ways Methamphetamine Ruins Your Teeth

Blue Crystal Methamphetamine1 – It dries out your mouth. -Methamphetamine directly inhibits saliva flow from the salivary glands.  The saliva offers a lot of protection to the teeth, something I recently wrote about in an article called How Saliva Protects Your Teeth.   In short, when the saliva stops flowing, the teeth are left without many defenses.

2 – Crystal meth gives the user a prolonged “high,” which often causes them to pass out. Meth users have a tendency to pass out frequently.  When they pass out, they are breathing through their mouth, which dries out the mouth.  And without saliva circulating in the mouth, the teeth are at risk.

3 – Meth is acidic by nature. This has been debated.  Some people say that meth isn’t acidic.  Some say it is. Pure methamphetamine is NOT acidic, but most street meth contains acidic byproducts.  For example, the most common method of manufacturing meth in the United States is the Red, White, and Blue Method.  This method of methamphetamine synthesis produces hydroiodic acid.  Other acids can be made as byproducts depending on how the methamphetamine is synthesized.

If only those that manufacture meth knew about the devastating effects of acid on the teeth — they’d probably be sure to only sell you pure methamphetamine!

4 – Meth users clench their teeth a lot. Many meth users are anxious and paranoid, mostly due to the effects of the drug on their body.  When they clench their teeth, they are grinding away valuable tooth structure that has already been weakened due to the other effects of meth mentioned in this article.

Blue Crystal Methamphetamine

5 – Meth gives the user a craving for sugary, carbonated drinks. Since the methamphetamine dries out their mouth, meth users often try to alleviate this side effect by reaching for soda or energy drinks.  This only adds insult to injury for their teeth, as pointed out in the article Nine Drinks That Can Dissolve Your Teeth.

6 – Meth destroys the enamel. It does this by causing cavities to form and by releasing toxic chemicals that damage the teeth.  In the book Treatment Planning in Dentistry by Stefanac and Nesbit it says:

“Meth mouth” typically begins with the yellowing of the user’s teeth and rapidly deteriorating enamel “flaking” off from the underlying tooth structure. Repeated use of the drug eventually leaves the user’s teeth looking grayish-brown or black stained, decayed to the gum line, and often nonrestorable. The rapid destruction of tooth enamel is thought to be a result of the heated vapors released by toxic chemicals produced while smoking methamphetamine.

7 – Meth Addicts are concerned about how to get their next high, not about their oral health. If you’re addicted to meth, then you probably spend a great deal of time, energy, and money supporting this habit.  Those with addictions of this nature are unlikely to be seeking routine dental care or even brushing and flossing regularly.


Methamphetamine causes significant harm to the teeth no matter how it is taken.  If methamphetamine is smoked, it is much more harmful for the teeth than when injected.  The book Primary Preventive Dentistry by Norman Harris says this about how methamphetamine is used:

It is thought that smokers [of methamphetamine] have worse dental effects, because the chemicals are brought in direct contact with the oral cavity, causing sores and infections. Injectors of methamphetamine do not experience the same severe tooth decay; however, they do experience more severe clenching and grinding. The increased bruxism is attributed to the more powerful effects of the injected drug.

If you or someone you know is addicted to methamphetamine, try to get help as soon as possible.  Methamphetamine doesn’t just affect the teeth, it affects the whole body.

Here’s a good article from Minnesota Public Radio about Ryan Hintz, a recovering meth addict, about how he is overcoming the addiction.

If you have any questions or comments about methamphetamine and dental health, please leave them in the comments below.  Thanks for reading!
A couple of years ago, physician my wife and I were on a walk near our community’s park. A baseball game was taking place on the baseball field and we stopped to watch. I noticed that some of the players were constantly spitting into the dirt near the dugout.

It tooThe Importance of Saliva - Overlooked by Little League Playersk almost all of the self-control that I had to stop myself from yelling, “What’s wrong with you!? Don’t you know what great things that spit could do for your teeth? Why would you waste it like that?”

Okay, I might not have actually thought that, but the fact remains that saliva doesplay many important roles when it comes to keeping your teeth in optimal condition.

Luckily, the average person produces about one liter of saliva each day, so there’s still enough to spit out during a baseball game.

Six Ways Saliva Protects Your Teeth

1 -Saliva neutralizes acids that can erode your teeth. Plaque produces acid that causes cavities.  Acids can also be found in many of the foods we eat and lots of different beverages that we drink.  Another way that we can get acid in our mouth is through acid-reflux from the stomach or by vomiting.  Luckily, saliva has molecules called buffers that can neutralize the acid, reducing its effect on our teeth.

2 – Saliva inhibits demineralization of the tooth surface and promotes remineralization. That means that when acids try to dissolve the outer layer of your teeth (the enamel), your saliva is right there, super-saturated with extra calcium and phosphate to prevent the acid from demineralizing your teeth.  When the acid is so strong that it does demineralize the tooth, your saliva will neutralize the acid as soon as possible, and then replace the lost tooth with calcium and phosphate.

Saliva can even contain fluoride when people drink fluoridated water or use a fluoride mouthrinse and/or fluoride toothpaste.  This extra fluoride in the saliva can help remineralize teeth with the fluoride ions and make them more resistant to future attacks from plaque.

For more information on how fluoride can protect the teeth, read the article The Three Ways that Fluoride Protects Your Teeth.

3 – Saliva cleanses the mouth. After you eat a satisfying meal, your saliva goes to work to rinse away any extra food that may be stuck on your teeth.  When the food sticks to your teeth, it can feed the bacteria that live on your teeth, helping them to hurt your teeth.  By washing away the food, your saliva is getting rid of the food source for the bacteria, ensuring that your teeth remain in good condition for a long, long time.  Saliva can even wash away actual bacteria, preventing them from grabbing onto your teeth and residing there until the time when a toothbrush scrapes it away.

Spit Can Protect Your Teeth

4 – Saliva can kill bacteria. Saliva has many different antibacterial agents in it that can destroy bacteria.  This is helpful not only for your teeth, but for your whole body.  Specific components in saliva have been shown to slow the growth of a cavity-causing strain of bacteria known as streptococcus mutans.  Here’s one study that demonstrated saliva’s antibacterial effect that was published in the Journal of Dental Research.

5 – Saliva strengthens newly-erupted teeth. When teeth first come into the mouth, their enamel isn’t fully developed.  Saliva fills in the weak parts of the new tooth with calcium, phosphate, and fluoride to make these new teeth strong and ready for battle against your teeth’s worst enemies.

6 – Saliva can form a protective coating on teeth. Proteins in the saliva bind to the tooth surface.  The book Essentials of Dental Caries by Kidd, “Salivary proteins could increase the thickness of the acquired pellicle and so help to retard the movement of calcium and phosphate ions out of enamel.”

By keeping calcium and phosphate in the tooth, the salivary pellicle could aid in preventing cavities.  Ironically, the salivary pellicle is a sticky coating that helps cavity-causing bacteria adhere to the tooth surface.  In a way, it can be both a good and bad thing.

Further Reading & Conclusion

There are a couple of good reports about saliva, such as  Saliva — The Defender of the Oral Cavity by Amerongen and another study by Amerongen about salivary proteins.  You’ll probably need a subscription from a major university to get to them, but I thought I would link to them anyway for those of you who are able to access them.

Do you have any questions or comments about how saliva protects your teeth?  Leave them below in the comments section!


  1. i never thought saliva would be so useful even though many thought its disgusting…

    but Tom why does saliva taste a bit bad if you wake up in the morning, even though
    i have brush my teeth and mouthwashed it…?


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