While it doesn’t garner the star power of blood, saliva is still an important bodily fluid. A true multi-tasker, saliva contributes in many ways to the function and health of the body, from stronger teeth to more efficient digestion.
Here are six ways saliva helps your mouth and body function properly and stay healthy.
The mouth’s natural cleanser. Bacteria are responsible for much of the dental disease that plagues us, particularly tooth decay and gum disease. Saliva clears the mouth of food remnants, bacteria’s primary feeding source, after we eat. This leaves a cleaner mouth and fewer bacteria to cause infection.
The immune system’s partner. Saliva contains an antibody called Immunoglobulin A (IgA) that attacks disease-causing microorganisms. Along with secreting other antibacterial agents like lactoferrin and lyzozyme that curb the growth and development of bacteria, saliva serves as the body’s first line of defense against pathogens entering through the mouth.
Acid neutralizer. The optimal oral environment is a neutral pH of 7. Many of our foods and beverages, though, are highly acidic, which can raise the mouth’s acid level. The acidic environment causes the minerals in tooth enamel to soften and dissolve (a process called de-mineralization). Saliva restores the balance by neutralizing any remaining acid after we eat (a process that takes about 30 to 60 minutes).
Mineral replacer. Even under normal conditions, enamel will de-mineralize to some extent whenever the mouth becomes acidic. Saliva restores some of the enamel’s lost minerals like calcium and phosphate while it’s neutralizing acid. If fluoride is also present in saliva from fluoridated drinking water or toothpaste, it too is absorbed by the enamel making it stronger and more resistant to acid attacks.
Digestion enhancer. Saliva lubricates the mouth while we eat, making it easier for us to chew (and taste) our food. Saliva also releases the enzyme amylase as we chew to break down starches before the food enters our stomach. The end result is more efficient and comfortable digestion.
The wave of the future in diagnostics. Like blood and urine, saliva contains genetic and disease markers that could tell a physician if a patient has a certain condition. Since collecting a saliva sample is much easier than with these other bodily fluids, diagnosing disease with saliva will become more prevalent as more calibrated devices reach the market.
If you would like more information on the role of saliva in the body, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Saliva.”
Some moviegoers have been known to crunch popcorn, bite their fingers or grab their neighbor’s hands during the intense scenes of a thriller. But for one fan, the on-screen action in the new superhero film Black Panther led to a different reaction.
Sophia Robb, an 18-year-old Californian, had to make an emergency visit to the orthodontic office because she snapped the steel wire on her retainer while watching a battle scene featuring her Hollywood crush, Michael B. Jordan. Her jaw-clenching mishap went viral and even prompted an unexpected reply from the actor himself!
Meanwhile, Sophia got her retainer fixed pronto—which was exactly the right thing to do. The retention phase is a very important part of orthodontic treatment: If you don’t wear a retainer, the beautiful new smile you’re enjoying could become crooked again. That’s because if the teeth are not held in their new positions, they will naturally begin to drift back into their former locations—and you may have to start treatment all over again…
While it’s much more common to lose a removable retainer than to damage one, it is possible for even sturdy retainers to wear out or break. This includes traditional plastic-and-wire types (also called Hawley retainers), clear plastic retainers that are molded to fit your teeth (sometimes called Essix retainers), and bonded retainers: the kind that consists of a wire that’s permanently attached to the back side of your teeth. So whichever kind you use, do what Sophia did if you feel that anything is amiss—have it looked at right away!
When Black Panther co-star Michael B. Jordan heard about the retainer mishap, he sent a message to the teen: “Since I feel partly responsible for breaking your retainers let me know if I can replace them.” His young fan was grateful for the offer—but even more thrilled to have a celebrity twitter follower.
If you have questions about orthodontic retainers, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers” and “Bonded Retainers.”
We all have habits: things we do every day often without consciously thinking. Some of them are good; some not so much. And many of them took root in childhood.
That's why it's important to help your children form good habits in their formative years, especially regarding oral health. Here are 4 areas to focus on developing good dental habits — and avoiding bad ones.
Keep teeth and gums clean. The best defense against dental disease is stopping plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles, from building up on tooth surfaces. That means brushing and flossing each day, along with regular dental cleanings and checkups. You should begin cleaning your child's teeth as soon as they appear in the mouth with a clean towel or rag at first and later brushing them. Eventually, teach your children to brush and floss for themselves. Dental visits should also begin around their first birthday.
A nutritious diet equals healthy teeth. The saying, “You are what you eat,” is especially true about teeth. Help your child form a nutritious diet habit by providing meals rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, quality protein and dairy products. You should also restrict their sugar intake, a primary food for bacteria that cause tooth decay; try to limit sweets to mealtimes and avoid constant snacking.
Avoid habits with hidden dangers. Actually, this one is about you — and what you might be doing to increase your child's risk for dental disease. Avoid actions that increase the chances of transmitting oral bacteria from you to your infant, like kissing on the lips or licking a pacifier to clean it. You should also avoid giving your child night-time bottles or sippy cups filled with milk, formula or any sweetened liquid — likewise for pacifiers dipped in something sweet.
Steer them away from future bad habits. As children become teenagers, they're eager to stretch their wings. While this is normal and good, they can get into habits with dire consequences for oral health. You should by all means steer them away from tobacco use or oral piercings (tongue and lip bolts especially can wreak havoc on tooth structure) that can harm their teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on dental care for children, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children.”
Starting college is one of life’s biggest transition moments, the first time many young people can truly say they’re on their own. Their freshman year can be both exhilarating and frightening.
The reason for this seeming dichotomy is that both exciting opportunities and harmful pitfalls abound in college life. One such pitfall that’s often overlooked involves dental health: it’s all too easy to neglect good habits and adopt bad ones. But while it may not seem as harmful as other dangers, inattention to your dental health could create consequences that plague you long after graduation.
But being diligent about dental care can help you avoid serious problems now and in the future. At the top of the list: brush and floss your teeth daily and continue seeing a dentist at least twice a year. Hopefully, your parents or guardians have trained you in these vital habits—and they’re definitely habits you should continue for the rest of your life.
Close in importance to good oral hygiene is a healthy diet. Besides eating primarily “natural” food—fresh fruits and vegetables and less-processed foods—you should also set limits on your sugar consumption. This carbohydrate is a primary food for disease-causing bacteria, so limiting as much as possible the sugar you eat to just meal times will lower your risk for tooth decay.
Another area in which you should tread wisely is alcohol consumption. Besides the obvious consequences of alcohol abuse, immoderate drinking can also cause dental problems. Alcohol (and smoking) tends to dry out the mouth, which can increase the levels of oral bacteria and in turn increase your risk of both tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease.
Finally, avoid getting piercings involving the lips, mouth or tongue even if it’s the thing to do. Piercing hardware can chip teeth and contribute to the shrinking back of the gums (recession). And be sure you practice safe sex: unprotected sexual activity could expose you to viral infections that cause oral problems including cancer.
Your college years should be an exciting and memorable experience. By practicing these and other common sense dental habits, you’ll be sure to remember these years fondly.
If you would like more information on dental care during college, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “10 Health Tips for College Students.”
What should you do if your child complains about a toothache? Before calling our office, try first to learn what you can about the toothache.
You should first ask them where exactly the pain is coming from — one particular tooth or a generalized, dull ache. Also try to find out, as best they can tell you, when they first noticed the pain. Try then to look at the tooth or area where they indicate the pain is coming from: since tooth decay is a prime cause for tooth pain, you should look for any obvious signs of it like brown spots or cavities. You should also look at the gums around the teeth for any redness or swelling, a sign of an abscess or periodontal (gum) disease.
If you notice any of these signs, the pain persists for more than a day, or it has kept the child awake during the night, you should have us examine them as soon as possible. If you notice facial swelling or they’re running a fever, please call and we will see them immediately. If it’s definitely tooth decay, it won’t go away on its own. The longer we wait to treat it, the worse its effects in the mouth.
In the meantime, you should also try to alleviate the pain as best you can. If when looking in the mouth you noticed food debris (like a piece of hard candy) wedged between the teeth, try to gently remove it with dental floss. Give them ibuprofen or acetaminophen in an appropriate dosage for their age to relieve pain, or apply an ice pack on and off for about 5 minutes at a time to the outside of their jaw.
If any of these remedies stops the pain within an hour, you can wait until the next day to call for an appointment. If the pain persists, though, then an abscess could be developing — you should call that day to see us.
Regardless of when the pain stops, or whether you see any abnormal signs, it’s still important your child see us for an accurate diagnosis. Their toothache maybe trying to tell you something’s wrong — and the earlier a problem is found and treated, the better the outcome.
If you would like more information on dental problems in young children, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “A Child’s Toothache.”
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