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Saliva

10
Weapons of Plaque Destruction
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About five years ago, I was sitting in the first lecture of an Introduction to Dentistry class.  The professor, a local dentist, was talking about how plaque forms on our teeth and how it causes our teeth to decay.  Something clicked inside of me that day, and that lecture helped solidify my desire to become a dentist.

Weapons of Plaque DestructionI summarized that lecture in my first post ever on Oral Answers back in January 2010 entitled What Every Human Needs to Know About Plaque. If you haven’t read it and you’re curious about how tooth decay begins, you might want to take a look at it.

Because plaque can eventually cause you to lose your teeth, it is important to remove it and try to minimize its formation.  Here are 12 easy ways you can do that: The Top 12 Weapons of Plaque Destruction.

Top 12 Weapons of Plaque Destruction

Weapon #1 – Brushing Your Teeth

Brushing your teeth not only removes plaque, but some toothpastes also contain antimicrobials, such as Triclosan in Colgate Total. Toothpaste also contains abrasives which can help mechanically remove plaque from your teeth.

To find out what else is in toothpaste, read The 10 Main Ingredients In Your Toothpaste.

Weapon #2 – Flossing

Flossing helps remove plaque that is stuck between your teeth.  Cavities between teeth are so common that the two fillings required by the most popular dental board exam both have to include a cavity that is between two teeth.

Think you could use some tips on flossing?  Start by reviewing these 10 common flossing mistakes.

Weapon #3 – Fluoride

Fluoride has three different ways that it makes our teeth stronger and more resistant to the bad effects of plaque.  Fluoride is the only active ingredient in most toothpastes sold in the United States.  Fluoride is also added to many municipal water systems.  There is a strong, ongoing debate about whether or not it’s okay to add fluoride to everyone’s water.

Weapon #4 – Xylitol

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that somehow helps fight plaque.  Xylitol is found in many chewing gums and you can also buy it in solid form from many health food stores or from Amazon.  Then you can use it to sweeten drinks like tea and coffee.

To learn more about this valuable plaque-fighting sugar alcohol read the article, Xylitol: What It Is and How It Protects Your Teeth.

Weapon #5 – Anti-Plaque Mouthwash

Many plaque-fighting mouthwashes contain ingredients such as cetylpyridinum chloride (CPC) which can kill the bacteria responsible for causing cavities.

Weapon #6 – Water

Drinking water or rinsing your mouth out with water after eating sugary foods can help wash away food that sticks around in your mouth. Since the bacteria live off the food you eat, you will be starving them by rinsing out your mouth.

Weapon #7 – Saliva

Saliva helps protect the teeth in many ways.  You can read about the six main ways that your spit protects your teeth in the post, How Saliva Protects Your Teeth.

If you suffer from dry mouth, you may be losing the war against plaque in your mouth.  Learn about six causes of dry mouth and 348 medications that can cause dry mouth.

Weapon #8 – Plaque Disclosing Tablets

If you don’t know where the plaque is, it’s hard to destroy it.  Plaque disclosing tablets work by coloring the plaque on your teeth so that you can make sure you’re removing it all when you brush and floss.

To learn more about plaque disclosing tablets, including the best places to buy them, read How Plaque Disclosing Tablets Can Help You Brush Better.

Weapon #9 – Chewing Gum

Chewing stimulates your salivary glands.  Some types of chewing gum are better than others.  Make sure you’re chewing the right type of gum for your oral health by reading about which of the three types of chewing gum is best for your teeth.

Weapon #10 – Your Tongue

Your tongue is a big weapon of plaque destruction.  Your tongue (with the help of your saliva – see weapon #7) can help clean sugary food off of your teeth so that you swallow it rather than letting it sit on your teeth and feed the plaque.

Weapon #11 – Certain Foods

Certain foods can actually help your teeth repair themselves after you eat a sugary snack.  Cheese contains phosphates and calcium that your saliva can utilize to help remineralize your teeth after they get “attacked” by the acid from plaque.  To appreciate this effect, you might want to read about what happens in your mouth every time you eat or drink.

Not sure what to eat for healthy teeth?  Learn about 16 delicious foods that you and your teeth will enjoy.

Weapon #12 – Sealants

Sealants are mainly used on children’s permanent molars.  Sealants are a strong plastic material that dentists can flow into the small grooves on the biting surfaces of your children’s teeth.  By covering up these grooves, you remove a nice, hard to brush place where plaque loves to hide.  Sealants are very effective at preventing tooth decay on the biting surface of molar teeth.

Conclusion

Hopefully this article gave you some good ideas about how you can help win the war against plaque in your mouth and help your teeth to live a long life.

Do you have any questions or anything you’d like to say about oral health or hygiene?  I’d love to hear your comments below, and I’ll try to personally respond to each one.  Thanks for reading!

81
Tongue Piercing Licking Lips
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Oral piercing is a practice that seems to be gaining popularity in the United States.  The most common places to get a piercing in your mouth are the lips, tongue, cheek, and the uvula (the “hangy-ball” thing in the back of your throat.) Tongue Piercing Can Hurt Your Teeth!People want to get their tongue pierced for a variety of reasons.  One of the biggest reasons is to make them look trendy — people want to fit in, and if they can be seen as cool for getting their tongue pierced, then they’ll go for it. Unfortunately, not many people are aware of the many risks associated with getting your tongue pierced.  I think if people understood the dangers of tongue piercing, fewer piercings would be performed. I’m planning on writing a couple of articles about the risks of tongue piercing.  This first article will focus on ten ways that tongue piercing hurts your mouth and teeth.  The next one will talk about the negative effects that oral piercings have on the rest of your body.

The Risks of Tongue Piercing: 10 Ways Tongue Piercing Hurts Your Mouth and Teeth

1 – Tongue piercing causes chips, cracks, and/or fractures in your teeth. Wearing tongue jewelry can not only damage your teeth, but it can damage expensive dental work that you may have already had done. The effect of tongue jewelry on teeth is especially important when participating in exercise and athletic activities.  When in doubt, take the barbell out!  It is important to note that if you leave out your tongue jewelry for more than a few hours, it may be next to impossible to get the jewelry back in.

Tongue piercings are just one of the many ways you can chip or crack your teeth.  To learn more,read 10 Easy Ways to Chip or Crack Your Teeth.

2 – Tongue piercing causes gum recession, also called localized periodontal disease. If you wear a barbell in your tongue, it can rub up against and irritate the gums on the tongue side of your teeth.  This has led to gum recession in many people who have their tongue pierced.  In older adults, periodontal disease (not cavities) is usually the most common cause of tooth loss. 3 – Tongue piercing can wear down your teeth. Out of habit, many tongue-ring wearers often rub their tongue ring up against their teeth. Over time, this can wear down the enamel. Over time, you could expose dentin or experience increased sensitivity or cavities. If you insist on having a tongue piercing, trying out a shorter barbell may reduce the damage that it inflicts on your mouth — although it would be best to get rid of the tongue jewelry altogether!

Concerned about wearing down your teeth? Learn more about the four ways we wear down our teeth.

4 – Tongue piercing can cause speech impediments. Tongue piercing can make it more difficult to talk.  You use your tongue for making a lot of sounds when you talk.  If you get a tongue ring, it makes it a lot harder to speak correctly. 5 – Tongue piercing can cause nerve damage. An inexperienced piercing parlor worker may inadvertently cause permanent damage to the nerves in your tongue or other areas of the mouth depending on how the tongue is pierced.  The person doing the piercing needs to have a sound knowledge of the anatomy of your tongue.  If you do get your tongue pierced, it’s important to find a reputable, high-quality piercing parlor to cut a hole in your tongue. You probably wouldn’t enjoy having parts of your tongue permanently numb.  Many people hate having their tongue numb for a couple of hours after getting a filling — just imagine how hard it would be to not fully enjoy the taste of your food or constantly have your tongue give you that numb, tingling sensation. 6 – Tongue piercing can cause bad breath. Tongue jewelry is a good place for the plaque in your mouth to live.  It’s harder to brush if you have tongue jewelry.  Also, if you don’t regularly clean your tongue jewelry, it can accumulate bacteria that make your breath smell pretty disgusting! Tongue Piercing Damages Your Mouth! 7 – Tongue piercing can cause a space between your two upper front teeth, also known as a diastema. Although this isn’t very common, it does happen as evidenced by this case report written by orthodontists. 8 – Tongue piercing can cause excessive drooling. Tongue piercing can cause an increase in the amount of saliva you make.  Although saliva is good for the teeth, too much can be a problem.  You probably won’t look too cool with a tongue ring if you leave a puddle of spit everywhere you go! 9 – The metal tongue jewelry can cause a metal hypersensitivity reaction. You could end up being allergic to the metal in your tongue jewelry. If you were excited about having metal tongue jewelry and then end up having to wear a plastic barbell, you may be disappointed. 10 – Tongue piercing can cause pain and infection. The tongue piercing itself could cause pain and other complications.  Many people who have had their tongue pierced say that it was quite painful.  Here’s one story about how much tongue piercing hurts from Yahoo! Answers. You might get an infection depending on how sanitary the piercing parlor is. Most people have some degree of swelling after their tongue piercing. If you have a low tolerance for pain, you may want to reconsider.

More Reading on the Negative Effects of Tongue Piercing

I read a LOT of great articles while researching for this post.  Here are a couple you might be interested in:

Conclusion

Keep in mind that of all of the negative effects listed above, the most common are damaging a tooth and causing gum recession. If you’re thinking about getting your tongue pierced, please re-think your decision.  You may look cool around some of your friends, but the damage that tongue piercing does to your mouth isn’t worth it. Although I didn’t mention this above, because it’s not a huge consequence of tongue piercing, think about how much you love tasting your food —  especially with Thanksgiving tomorrow.  Do you really want to damage some of your valuable taste buds by getting your tongue pierced? For all of the Americans reading this, have a great Thanksgiving day tomorrow!  If you have any questions or comments about tongue piercing and oral health, please leave them in the comments section below.

2
How Saliva Protects Teeth
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A couple of years ago, 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!

17
Fruit: Good or Bad for Teeth?
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Many people have asked me whether or not fruit is bad for your teeth.  The answer is that it depends.  We all know that the main reason people like fruit compared to vegetables is because of the sugar.  The question is, does the sugar in fruit cause tooth decay?

There are six main ways that we eat fruit:

1 – Fresh fruit
2 – Frozen fruit
3 – Canned fruit
4 – Fruit juice
5 – Dried fruit
6 – Preserved fruit, such as  jellies and jams

Is Fresh Fruit Good for Your Teeth?

Fresh Fruit is Great for Your TeethIt might seem counter intuitive to think that a food with lots of sugar is good for your teeth, but fresh fruit is good for your teeth when consumed as part of a balanced diet.  In this review paper talking about diet and cavities, the authors stated the following:

In experimental conditions in which fruit is a major dietary
constituent, fruits may participate in the caries process;
however, as consumed as part of the mixed human diet
there is little evidence to show fruit to be an important
factor in the development of dental caries.

If you eat fruit and only fruit all day long, then it may not be too good for you.  This study showed that when fruit is eaten very often (as in 17 times per day!), that fruit can start to cause cavities.

Just use common sense by eating fruit as part of a balanced diet and you’ll be fine.  Fresh fruit also provides valuable vitamins that can even improve your oral health.

Is Frozen Fruit Good for Your Teeth?

While researching through academic literature for this article, I couldn’t find anything that differentiated frozen fruit from fresh fruit.  However, since many people do eat frozen fruit, I thought I would mention it.

Until different studies and experiments are conducted, I would say that frozen fruit is about as good for your teeth as fresh fruit.  Frozen fruit is certainly much better than any of the other forms of fruit mentioned below.

Just make sure that the food manufacturers have not added additional sugar to the frozen fruit to make it more pleasing to your taste buds (but more detrimental to your teeth).  For example, many companies sell frozen fruit bars that have fruit in them with extra sugar.

Is Canned Fruit Good for Your Teeth?

Canned fruit can be good for you!  You do need to be careful though.  Most canned fruits on the market today are bathed in a sugar-rich heavy syrup.  Due to this added sugar, canned fruit can be very harmful to your teeth.

Before eating canned fruit, look on the ingredients label to see if it has added sugar.  Most canned fruits will also say “In heavy syrup” or “In light syrup” on the label.  This is a giveaway that these products contain excess sugar.  While rare, you may be able to find canned fruit with “no added sugar”.

Interestingly, every patient that comes into our dental school for comprehensive treatment has to take a diet assessment analysis.  One of the questions asks whether or not they eat canned fruit frequently.  This helps us determine how “at risk” they are for getting cavities.

Is Fruit Juice Good for Your Teeth?

Juice is Not Good For Your Teeth

If you take away the most nutritious parts of a fruit, what are you left with?  Sugar water and natural flavors – AKA: fruit juice.

When a fruit is juiced, all of the sugar comes out of it and into the solution of juice.  This sugar is no different than much of the sugar that is in candy today.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry even recommends restricting the amount of fruit juice that you give your small children to less than one cup per day.  They have recognized the devastating effects that fruit juice can have on kids’ teeth.  I’ll cover this topic more in a future article, but recognize the importance of limiting fruit juice intake.

Is Dried Fruit Good for Your Teeth?

Grapes, Raisins, and Your Teeth
Grapes are alright, but when dried into raisins they can cause cavities.

Dried fruit is a very convenient, portable snack.  It wouldn’t be a very bad alternative to fresh fruit if it weren’t for one thing: Dried fruit is not good for your teeth.  I was able to come up wtih four main reasons why.

1 – The sugar is super-concentrated.  When you dry fruit, almost all of the water is lost, but no sugar is lost.

2 – Dried fruit is very sticky.  I used to eat dried mangoes all of the time and found that they kept getting stuck in my teeth.

3 – When fruit is dried, it releases a lot of the intrinsic sugars from inside of the fruit.  These Ocean Spray Craisins Contain Lots of Added Sugarsugars are then available to feed the bacteria in your mouth, which can hurt your teeth.

4 – Dried fruit often has added sugar.  This is another one of the ways that manufacturers can sneak sugar into our diet.  Popular dried fruit like Craisins Dried Cranberries and many brands of dried mangoes contain added sugar.

Are Jelly and Jam Good for Your Teeth?

Jellies and jams aren’t good for your teeth at all.  The fruit is usually cooked, releasing lots of the intrinsic sugars and removing lots of water.  Then, this mixture is thickened and bombarded with sugar.

Jelly and jam might not be so bad, but we usually eat them by putting them on bread.  When a mixture of jam and bread gets stuck in our back teeth, it can feed the bacteria in our mouths for a long time until our saliva finally rinses it away.

Conclusion

Fresh fruit is best for your teeth.  Fresh fruit is also very portable as it usually comes in its own natural wrapper.  Try to limit fruit juice, dried fruit, and jellies and jams.

Remember, it is important to eat a balanced diet.

Do you have any questions or comments on fruit and your dental health?  Leave them below in the comments!