For over a century now, health providers have depended on blood and urine samples to diagnose many forms of disease. Very soon, though, we may routinely use a different bodily fluid that's easier and cheaper to collect: saliva.
Secreted by six hundred or more glands in the mouth, saliva performs a number of important functions for digestion and overall oral health. Saliva lubricates the mouth to make food easier to swallow. Its enzymes begin the digestion process breaking down food even before we swallow. It also helps wash out food particles that could build up as plaque on the teeth and harbor disease-causing bacteria.
In terms of dental health, its greatest role is as a neutralizer of food acid. It's natural after we eat for the acid levels in the mouth to rise above normal. If acid remains in contact with enamel for an extended period of time it can soften the enamel's minerals and make it easier for them to erode. Within thirty minutes to an hour after eating, saliva neutralizes acid and restores the mouth's normal pH level. Saliva also contains calcium and phosphate materials, which helps restore some of the minerals the enamel may have lost from the acid contact.
But we're discovering saliva can do even more: we can now use it as an indicator for certain conditions in the body. Like blood or urine, saliva contains molecules that can serve as biological markers for different types of disease. By employing devices calibrated to detect these markers, we can use saliva to uncover cancer, diabetes or other systemic conditions.
As these particular devices are manufactured and become more available, the use of saliva for disease diagnosis will rise. In the future, you may not need a trip to the bathroom or wince at a needle stick — a swab of your saliva will do!
If you would like more information on saliva's role in your health, 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: How it is Used to Diagnose Disease.”
Human beings have known for millennia the importance of keeping teeth clean. Although we've only come to more fully understand dental plaque's role in dental disease in the last century, our ancestors seemed to know instinctively this gritty biofilm on teeth had to go.
People from the past once used a variety of substances like ground oyster shells or leftover fire ashes to remove plaque from their teeth. Today, most of the world has replaced these substances with toothpaste, a mainstay of daily oral hygiene.
So, why is toothpaste better than other substances used in the ancient past? Besides the many other ingredients found in the typical tube of toothpaste, here are the top 3 that make it the ultimate tooth cleaner.
Abrasives. While your toothbrush does most of the mechanical work loosening plaque, toothpaste has ingredients called abrasives that give an added boost to your brushing action. The ideal abrasive is strong enough to remove plaque, but not enough to damage tooth enamel. If you look at your toothpaste's ingredient list, you'll probably see an abrasive like hydrated silica (made from sand), hydrated alumina, calcium carbonate or dicalcium phosphates.
Detergents. Your toothpaste's foaming action is a sign of a detergent, which helps loosen and break down non-soluble (not dissolvable with plain water) food substances. While similar to what you may use to wash your clothes or dishes, toothpaste detergents are much milder, the most common being sodium lauryl sulfate found in many cosmetic items. If you have frequent canker sores, though, sodium lauryl sulfate can cause irritation, so look for a toothpaste with a different detergent.
Fluoride. The enamel strengthening power of fluoride was one of the greatest discoveries in dental care history. Although not all toothpastes contain it, choosing one with fluoride can improve your enamel health and help protect you from tooth decay.
These and other ingredients like binders, preservatives and flavorings, all go in to make toothpaste the teeth-cleaning, disease-fighting product we've all come to depend upon. Used as part of daily oral hygiene, toothpaste can help brighten and freshen your smile, and keep your teeth and gums healthy.
If you would like more information on using the right toothpaste, 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 “Toothpaste: What's in It?”
More than 20 million people in the United States use electronic cigarettes or e-cigs as an alternative to tobacco smoking. While many users believe "vaping" is a healthier alternative to regular cigarettes, recent research into the health effects of e-cigs could put a damper on that belief. There's particular concern among dentists that this popular habit could harm users' dental health.
E-cigs are made with a chamber that holds the liquid vaping solution and a heating mechanism to heat the liquid and vaporize it. Users inhale the vapor, which contains nicotine and flavorings, as they would a traditional cigarette.
The nicotine alone can be problematic for dental health as we'll see in a moment. But the vapor also contains aerosols that some research indicates could damage the inner skin linings of the mouth in a similar fashion to the smoke of traditional cigarettes. One study by researchers with the Université Laval in Quebec, Canada found evidence that e-cig vapor increased the death rate of mouth cells, and led to greater cell irregularities over time.
According to other studies, there's evidence that e-cig vapor may disrupt the balance of the oral microbiome, the communities of both beneficial and harmful bacteria that normally live in the mouth. The imbalance in favor of more harmful bacteria could increase the risk for dental disease, particularly periodontal (gum) disease.
Finally, nicotine from e-cigs seemed to create similar conditions in the mouth as it does with tobacco. Nicotine in any form can constrict blood vessels and reduce the body's ability to fight infection and to heal. Research indicates both forms of nicotine increase the risk for dental disease and make treatment more difficult.
These findings only identify conditions created by e-cigs that could be problematic for future dental health. Although we don't fully understand the long-term health effects of this new habit, based on the evidence so far the mouth may not fare so well. It's looking like e-cigs may be no safer for your teeth and gums than the cigarettes they replace.
Basketball isn't a contact sport—right? Maybe once upon a time that was true… but today, not so much. Just ask New York Knicks point guard Dennis Smith Jr. While scrambling for a loose ball in a recent game, Smith's mouth took a hit from an opposing player's elbow—and he came up missing a big part of his front tooth. It's a type of injury that has become common in this fast-paced game.
Research shows that when it comes to dental damage, basketball is a leader in the field. In fact, one study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA) found that intercollegiate athletes who play basketball suffered a rate of dental injuries several times higher than those who played baseball, volleyball or track—even football!
Part of the problem is the nature of the game: With ten fast-moving players competing for space on a small court, collisions are bound to occur. Yet football requires even closer and more aggressive contact. Why don't football players suffer as many orofacial (mouth and face) injuries?
The answer is protective gear. While football players are generally required to wear helmets and mouth guards, hoopsters are not. And, with a few notable exceptions (like Golden State Warriors player Stephen Curry), most don't—which is an unfortunate choice.
Yes, modern dentistry offers many different options for a great-looking, long lasting tooth restoration or replacement. Based on each individual's situation, it's certainly possible to restore a damaged tooth via cosmetic bonding, veneers, bridgework, crowns, or dental implants. But depending on what's needed, these treatments may involve considerable time and expense. It's better to prevent dental injuries before they happen—and the best way to do that is with a custom-made mouthguard.
Here at the dental office we can provide a high-quality mouthguard that's fabricated from an exact model of your mouth, so it fits perfectly. Custom-made mouthguards offer effective protection against injury and are the most comfortable to wear; that's vital, because if you don't wear a mouthguard, it's not helping. Those "off-the-rack" or "boil-and-bite" mouthguards just can't offer the same level of comfort and protection as one that's designed and made just for you.
Do mouthguards really work? The same JADA study mentioned above found that when basketball players were required to wear mouthguards, the injury rate was cut by more than half! So if you (or your children) love to play basketball—or baseball—or any sport where there's a danger of orofacial injury—a custom-made mouthguard is a good investment in your smile's future.
If you would like more information about custom-made athletic mouthguards, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Athletic Mouthguards” and “An Introduction to Sports Injuries & Dentistry.”
Although not high on the glamour scale, saliva is nonetheless an important ingredient in a healthy life. This "multi-tasker" fluid helps break down your food for better digestion and supplies antibodies to thwart threatening microorganisms coming in through the mouth.
But perhaps its most important role is to neutralize mouth acid that can erode tooth enamel. Without this buffering action, you're at much greater risk for tooth decay and possible tooth loss.
That's why chronic dry mouth is much more than just an unpleasant feeling. If you're not producing enough saliva, your risk for developing tooth decay (and periodontal disease too) skyrocket.
Here are 3 things you can do to avoid dry mouth and promote healthier saliva flow.
Watch what goes in your mouth. Some foods, beverages and other substances can interfere with saliva production. Caffeine in coffee, sodas and other beverages can cause your body to lose water needed to produce adequate saliva. So can alcohol, which can also further irritate dry tissues. And any type of tobacco use can decrease saliva production and heighten the dry mouth effect, another good reason to kick the habit.
Drink more water. Water is the main ingredient in saliva, so keeping yourself hydrated throughout the day helps ensure a ready supply. Drinking water also helps dilute acid concentrations and washes away leftover food particles that could become a food source for oral bacteria, the main source for mouth acid.
Ask questions about your medications. Many medications can trigger chronic dry mouth including drugs to treat cancer, high blood pressure, depression or allergies. If you have chronic dry mouth, talk with your physician about the medications you're taking and ask if there are any alternatives that have less of an effect. If not, drink more water, especially while taking oral medication.
You can also reduce dry mouth symptoms by using a humidifier while you sleep or using products that boost saliva production. And be sure you're brushing and flossing daily to further reduce your risk of dental disease. Managing dry mouth won't just make your mouth feel better—it will help your teeth and gums stay healthier too.
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