Saliva plays an important role in oral function, including the digestion of carbohydrates. It also plays a vital role in maintaining your teeth. Saliva lubricates and moistens food so that all the particles get flushed out of the mouth and swept into the digestive tract. When saliva is not there to coax food into the stomach, food stays around on your teeth, providing sustenance for the cavity-causing bacteria in your mouth.
As well, saliva contains molecules that aid in counteracting the effects of acid-forming bacteria and acids in certain foods. These acids are detrimental to teeth because they promote the breakdown of the calcium structure and this leads to cavities.
For this reason, it is very important to fall asleep at night with a clean mouth and a clean set of teeth. A nightly regimen for maintaining great oral hygiene includes flossing and brushing right before hitting the pillow. While you are asleep, your mouth produces far less saliva compared to when you are awake (the culprit for morning breath), meaning you don’t get the natural anti-acid and anti-cavity effect of abundant saliva.
Certain conditions will lead to a dryer mouth such as smoking, taking specific medications, or undergoing radiation treatments. Age and certain autoimmune disorders (Sjogren Syndrome) can also upset a patient’s saliva balance. Dentists will tend to see higher than normal plaque accumulation and cavity rates in these cases. When it is possible, dentists recommend that patient’s reverse the cause of dry mouth, by quitting smoking, for instance. In situations where patients are not able to prevent a dry mouth, they should try to keep their mouth well hydrated – drink or rinse water throughout the day, chew sugarfree gum to stimulate saliva flow, minimize their sugar intake, or try saliva substitutes, which can be found at most drug stores. Please see your dentist if you have any concerns regarding your oral health. And remember, a lubricated smile is a healthy smile!