Saliva: Your Smile’s First Line of Defense

Saliva does a lot of things for us. It helps us enjoy our foods by spreading tastes through the mouth and even helps begin digesting it before we swallow. But perhaps its most important contributions is that it helps defend our teeth and gums from damage.

A Neutral Party

dreamstime_xs_21504800One of the ways saliva protects our teeth is by keeping a neutral environment in the mouth.

Saliva contains a lot of natural chemicals that can react with bases and acids to make sure the pH in our mouth stays close to neutral.

Saliva can be overwhelmed by intermittent floods of highly acidic beverages or purging behavior related to bulimia. This can lead to acidic damage to your teeth throughout your mouth, what we call erosion of your enamel.

Saliva’s neutralizing power can also be overwhelmed locally in the presence of bacteria that excrete acids after consuming sugars. An even more acidic environment can be created where plaque hardens into tartar, which provides a protective shell for bacteria.

To make sure your saliva can do its job neutralizing pH, try to limit consumption of acidic foods and beverages, and get regular checkups to ensure that excess tartar is removed.

Like a Dentist in Your Mouth

Saliva also performs reconstructive dentistry. It contains ions that help restore damage caused by acid and wear to tooth enamel. The problems is that the chemical reactions are slow, so they’re often not able to keep up with damage caused by foods, stomach acid, and tooth trauma.

Antimicrobial Wash

You don’t need to get an antibacterial wash for your mouth in many cases, because your saliva already does this job. There are specific antibacterial compounds that can be called in when there’s an acute infection, but your mouth always has antibacterial compounds at work, such as lactoferrin and lysozyme.

Lactoferrin gets its name because it’s a protein that was first discovered in milk (hence the lacto) that binds powerfully to iron (hence the ferrin). Lactoferrin is so powerful at binding to iron, it can deprive bacteria in your mouth of the quantities they need to live. And to make matters worse (for bacteria), lactoferrin binds to bacteria, causing them to burst and die. Lactoferrin’s antibacterial properties are so significant that it’s sometimes sold as a natural supplement.

Lysozyme is another protein we have that attacks bacteria by destroying their cell membrane.

The problem with both of these compounds is that they are good at fighting cavity-causing bacteria but not gum disease bacteria.

When Saliva Just Isn’t Enough

Unfortunately, despite all that saliva is able to do for your mouth, it’s often not enough, and we find ourselves with damage to our teeth and gums. If you find yourself in this position, we can help. Please call (949) 551-5902 for an appointment with an Orange County cosmetic dentist at Rice Dentistry in Irvine.