pregnant woman with her friend with child relaxingA recent scientific study was prompted by anecdotal reports that bisphenol A (BPA) might be a cause of a condition that causes problems with the enamel on first molars and permanent incisors. This relatively recently identified problem, officially known as molar incisor hypomineralization (MIH), causes the teeth to be oversensitive and more prone to decay. This condition, which is not reversible, is now showing up in about 18 percent of children between the ages of 6 and 8.

We know what happens with rats…

The recently released French study, published in the American Journal of Pathology, involved rats being exposed to low doses of BPA daily – from the time of their conception until day 30 or 100 after their birth. By day 30, the rats were showing signs of hypomineralization on their teeth. So it was during the early developmental stages of the rats that the BPA was causing damage to their teeth.

What does it mean for humans?

Similar studies have not been conducted with humans. However, the hypomineralization observed on the rats’ teeth shares many characteristics of the MIH observed in humans. As with the rats, we know that the effect on human teeth is showing up after the early childhood development stage. We know that BPA has been detected in significant amounts in human amniotic fluid, placentas, blood, and urine. And we also have studies that show that one of the most common human exposures to BPA is through food. The inner lining of most metal containers contains BPA. Even baby food in glass jars contains BPA, which is attributed to the liner in the metal lids.

What does the FDA say?

In July 2012, the FDA banned the use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups in order to address growing public concern about possible health implications of this estrogen-like industrial chemical.  The FDA approved the use of BPA in the 1960′s, and it has been widely used in making hard plastic bottles and to line food and drink cans since that time. The FDA again declared the use of BPA to be safe in 2008, but in April 2010 opened up the issue for public comment and further evaluation.  (Europe banned the manufacture and sale of baby bottles with BPA in January 2011, and France will ban its use in all food containers after July 2015.)

What can you do as a pregnant mom or parent of a young child?

Pay attention to what you and your young children are eating. Take special advantage of locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables available to you this summer!  Limit the use and storage of products in containers that are made with BPA until we know the full story on BPA’s effects on human health. While not every plastic container marked with a recycling symbol of 7 contains BPA, that is one indicator that may help you to make a more informed decision. If you are the parent of a young child, make sure that you begin regular dental check-ups early to monitor and control signs of early decay that are associated with this problem (MIH) with young children’s tooth enamel.

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If your tongue is sore, and there appears to be no good explanation (such as drinking something too hot or cutting it with something sharp), your dentist can be a good first line of defense in sorting out the cause. The cause can be triggered by dental issues or by other diseases (such as celiac disease or diabetes). Your sore tongue may simply get better with time – or it might be a sign of something very serious – like oral cancer.

Dental issues

Oral hygiene and the buildup of plaque can cause gum disease that can eventually result in a sore tongue. If you’ve not had a recent checkup, see your dentist as soon as you can. Problems with the teeth, fillings and gums need to be eliminated as a potential cause of your sore tongue. It can be a sign of advancing disease that could all-to-soon result in tooth loss. Your dentist can also perform a screening exam for oral cancer, which only takes a few minutes and is not painful. Discovering oral cancer early is very important!

Some people who unknowingly grind their teeth at night will develop a sore tongue. If this is the case with you, your dentist can likely spot other telltale signs – patterns of abnormal tooth wear – that indicate you are grinding your teeth. To help prevent abnormal tooth wear and tongue soreness, your dentist may recommend that you use a night guard for your teeth.

Help your dentist by providing other clues

A white tongue can be a symptom of various other conditions, such as a bacterial or fungal infection (thrush) that can cause tongue irritation and soreness. There’s a reason that your dentist’s office usually asks about changes to medications or your physical health with each regular visit. Significant changes to your health and treatment plans (such as diabetes, chemotherapy, or even a recent round of antibiotics) are potential causes for a sore tongue. There may be a relatively simple explanation. Your dentist can help you understand whether it’s something that is likely to resolve on its own or whether it is best to consult some other type of medical specialist.

If you have a sore tongue, it’s also helpful to tell your dentist about things as simple as changes in your dietary habits or dental hygiene. Certain type of vitamin deficiencies can result in a sore tongue. Also be prepared to report recent changes in products that you use for oral healthcare (toothpaste, mouthwash, whitening agents).

Don’t wait too long!

If your problem is exceptionally painful or persists for longer than two weeks, it’s time to take action and make sure that any serious issue receives appropriate attention. Contact your dentist to eliminate dental causes as the issue or to help you determine what type of medical professional to consult. Remember, with the availability of sedation dentistry, there’s no longer a good excuse for anyone to avoid having regular dental checkups!

If you have a broken tooth and you’re reading this trying to decide what to do, make calling your dentist to schedule an appointment a top priority. Don’t panic. But do call for an appointment whether you are experiencing pain or not. Provide as much information as you reasonably can about the cause and nature of the break. A few other tips to follow prior to your scheduled appointment are:

• If you are in pain, you can use an anti-inflammatory medication (ibuprofen, aspirin, acetaminophen, etc.) that works well for you.
• Gently rinse your mouth with warm salt water; that may also provide some relief.
• Is there a sharp edge on the remaining portion of the tooth that is hurting your tongue, the inside of your tongue or your cheek? If so, try covering it with either wax or sugar-free gum until you can see your dentist. (Gum with sugar could promote decay.)
• If you have a regular dentist, ask for additional advice about interim care and pain management when you phone for an appointment. There might be more specific advice based on your dental history.
• Avoid chewing on the affected tooth if at all possible. There might be other cracks in the tooth that could cause another portion of the tooth to break and either cause or increase pain.
• Sticking to a soft food diet is best if you will be eating prior to your dental visit.
• Don’t expect your dentist to know what will need to be done to your tooth prior to your visit.

What are my broken tooth repair options?

It depends very much on the extent of the break, and even which tooth is broken. If you’ve broken a tooth before, don’t assume you’ll need the same treatment, even if the situations seem the same. Your dentist may need to do x-rays or perform tests to assess tooth sensitivity to determine the full extent of the damage and advise you of all available options for repairing your broken tooth.

Treatment for a broken tooth can range from a filling or bonding to other restorative options, such as a crown, assuming that the tooth is not broken beyond repair. If you have a small chip in a front tooth, a porcelain veneer may be an option. A dental implant, which provides function and appearance most like your own natural tooth, is an option your dentist may propose if your tooth cannot be salvaged. Your current oral health and the condition of surrounding teeth can greatly influence what your dentist’s recommendation will be. Cosmetic considerations may also influence your decision if multiple treatment options exist.

Again, it’s important not to assume anything based on your own evaluation of the broken tooth. Get to your dentist quickly. A broken tooth is a tooth susceptible to more extensive damage. Don’t wait until you start to experience pain. You could lose a broken tooth that could have been easily salvaged with prompt action. Having assessed the situation, your dentist can provide advice on both immediate and longer term actions that can help you save a precious tooth!

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Oral Cancer Screening Exam

December 19, 2012 · 0 comments

A few minutes that could save your life

The fact that you don’t hear much about oral cancer could be a good thing or a bad thing. It’s not that uncommon – the National Cancer Institute predicts more than 40,000 people will be diagnosed with it in 2012, and that close to 8,000  will die from it. Knowing the facts about it may help you understand why those few extra minutes spent by your dentist doing an oral cancer exam is well worth it.

  • Oral cancer can affect your mouth tissue, tongue, cheeks or throat. That’s why a good oral cancer exam involves checking all of those areas.
  • Men and people over 40 are more likely to develop oral cancer.
  • Oral cancer has a relatively poor survival rate, mostly because it’s not usually detected until it’s progressed to later stages. (Like all cancers, early detection is important. More than 80% survive if oral cancer is caught early.)
  • Three known influences on oral cancer risk are tobacco use, alcohol use, and HPV-16 (human papillomavirus) – the same virus associated with cervical cancer risk.

Dentists are you best first line of defense against oral cancer, not only because of the screening exam, but if you should develop one of the symptoms. They are more familiar with the appearance of your mouth tissues than a regular physician might be, and have the equipment that will aid in a more thorough examination. If you have one of the indicators below, contact your dentist. These are some symptoms of oral cancer:

  • A mouth sore that doesn’t heal up within 2 weeks
  • A lump in your cheek
  • A white, red, or red/white patch on your tongue or anywhere else in your mouth
  • Numbness in the mouth or chin
  • Loose teeth
  • Chronic hoarseness
  • Trouble with chewing or swallowing
  • Difficulty moving your tongue or jaw

These signs don’t mean you have oral cancer, but they do warrant being checked out as a precautionary measure. If you’ve not had an oral cancer screening exam before, you may find it a bit strange the first time. But it’s a few minutes of time that can literally be lifesaving!

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Protect Your Baby’s Health Before and After You Become Pregnant!

pregnant woman with her friend with child relaxingIf you’re trying to get pregnant, one very smart thing to do is to make sure your gums are healthy. A recent study showed that, on average, women with gum disease took two months longer to conceive. By making sure that your teeth are clean and free from plaque before you become pregnant, you are more likely to bypass some of the oral health complications associated with pregnancy. Studies show that women with gum disease are more prone to having premature deliveries – at least three times more likely!

Early Pregnancy Concerns

As early as the second month of pregnancy, many women will start to notice changes in their gum tissue. The tissue may become red, and bleeding may occur when you are brushing your teeth. This condition is known as pregnancy gingivitis. It is believed that pregnancy-related rises in hormone levels contribute to the growth of the kind of bacteria that causes gingivitis. You may experience this as early as the second month of pregnancy. Consult with your dentist immediately to learn what you can do to keep your gums healthy. If the gingivitis worsens, it may become more serious gum disease – periodontitis. Periodontitis seems to have a close association with premature delivery.

Dry mouth (xerostomia) and its converse – excessive salivation – are two other conditions that can be triggered by pregnancy. Those experiencing excessive salivation will generally see the problem go away by the end of the first trimester. Drinking plenty of water and chewing sugarless gum are easy ways to address the dry mouth issue.

Second Trimester Vigilance Needed

The increased risk of pregnancy gingivitis continues through the second trimester and into the third. Another condition, sometimes called pregnancy tumors, more typically will begin during the second trimester. They are officially called pyogenic granulomas (not tumors), and they are non-cancerous growths on the gums. They can bleed easily, and they do warrant removal if they cause too much discomfort. However, even those that are removed often come back during the pregnancy. Time is the best cure – they usually go away on their own after the baby is born. As with pregnancy gingivitis, the best defense for these granulomas is being attentive to oral hygiene.

If you are beginning to develop pregnancy gingivitis, the best time to address the issue is during your second trimester. It’s a great precaution to go ahead and schedule a dental appointment for your second trimester as soon as you know you’re pregnant. That way, you and your dentist can work together to avoid more serious problems. See your dentist if you have an unusual growth on your gums; it’s best to let a dentist determine what the growth actually is.

Entering the Third Trimester

If you’re experiencing any gum inflammation in the third trimester, see your dentist as soon as possible and get the recommended treatment. Do not leave any type of dental problem, such as a broken tooth, untreated just because you’re in your third trimester. Let your dentist be the judge of whether and how to treat it most effectively for your health and that of your soon-to-be-born baby. It may be possible to perform some type of intermediate treatment and postpone the final treatment until after the baby is born.

It is true, in general, that x-rays should be avoided during pregnancy. However, if your dentist recommends them in order to assess or address a serious dental concern, follow that advice. Digital x-ray machines significantly reduce your radiation exposure. Check with your dentist about the type of equipment being used. Remember, a lead apron will be used to shield your baby. Because of your pregnancy, your dentist will try to minimize the number of x-rays taken.

Summing It Up

Be proactive about your oral health if you’re trying to get pregnant and during every trimester after you do become pregnant. Keep your teeth clean, and try to avoid frequent snacking on sweets that encourage bacterial growth. That is a great way to do all you can to avoid the oral health problems that are associated with pregnancy. A little bit of extra attention to oral hygiene can go a long way in preventing a premature delivery or a low birth weight baby. Talk to your dentist about your current oral hygiene practice and what positive changes you can make for the health of your baby.

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Most people are aware of the pitfalls of drinking sugary soft drinks when it comes to tooth decay. The science behind that is that bacteria in the mouth love to feed on the sugar and convert it to acid which attacks tooth enamel and eventually leads to tooth decay. But the issue is far greater than sugar! Other ingredients – besides sugar – really matter, too.

Soft drinks – What else is in them?

This month (September), the New York City Board of Health banned the serving of sodas larger than 16 oz. in restaurants because of their contribution to obesity. Perhaps that move will have a positive effect on oral health, too. When it comes to oral health, it’s not just the sugar that’s the culprit. Many soft drinks contain either citric acid or phosphoric acid to add flavor to them. So drinking diet sodas won’t get you off the hook for exposing your teeth to enamel-eroding acid. Remember, it’s the acid that results from the sugar – not the sugar itself – that causes the problem. Both the amount and frequency of soda consumption has a bearing on the health of your tooth enamel.

Should you drink sports drinks instead?

Runners and other athletes have long turned to sports drinks as a healthier-than-soda alternative. Sports drinks have become trendy among all teens, regardless of their level of participation in sports. However, teens and their parents should be aware of a study published earlier this year (May/June 2012 issue of General Dentistry – journal of the Academy of General Dentistry). The study implicated sports drinks, as well as energy drinks, for giving teeth a very unhealthy acid bath. The acid levels vary from drink to drink, and even by flavor of drink, although energy drinks generally contain more acid than sports drinks.

According to this recent study, consuming sports or energy drinks for just five days can cause noticeable erosion of tooth enamel! If you do drink sports or energy drinks, try to rinse your mouth with water immediately afterwards to rid your mouth of the acid.

So water is the best option?

In general, yes, water is a great option not only for staying hydrated, but also for helping to preserve your oral health. However, one thing to consider when it comes to water is what might NOT be in the water. With the growing tendency to drink bottled water instead of tap water, some people may miss out on the enamel-strengthening fluoride that is present in most city and community water supplies. Most toothpastes do contain fluoride, however, so it may not be an issue. It’s certainly something to discuss with your dentist if a teen (or an adult) seems especially prone to tooth decay.

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mouthguard pictureYou do, if you engage in any type of sports activity where you are likely to collide with other sports participants or come in contact with hard surfaces. Read on, if you don’t agree with that statement.
You don’t have to be a high school, college or professional athlete to need a mouth guard. If you’re a weekend warrior – inclined to participate in a pick-up game of basketball, football or any other sport – do what the pros do. Add this “3-second warm-up exercise” to your checklist: Open mouth, insert mouth guard.

The Economics of Mouth Guards

If you (or a family member) have not experienced a sports-related (or other type) of dental injury), count yourself fortunate. You may not have had occasion to do the math, so do it now, before it’s too late. Most dental insurance policies do not cover mouth guards. But it still makes good dollars and sense. Mouth guards won’t prevent every dental injury, but you only need to read a few legal waivers addressing an athlete’s refusal to wear a mouth guard to better appreciate the risk and economics. One statistical website puts the number of teeth lost annually to sports injuries at 5 million. That’s a lot of teeth, and they’re not cheap to replace! And that number does not include the number of teeth that get painfully “rearranged” or cracked, requiring substantial and costly repair.
If you’re a parent of a student athlete (official team or casual), you’ll do your best to protect your existing investment if your child has worn or is currently wearing braces. Who wants to start all over on that smile-enhancing investment? While the braces themselves might provide some degree of stability for the teeth, injuries to the tongue and mouth tissue are likely to be more serious. (Of course, mouth guards also limit injury to oral tissues for those who aren’t wearing braces.) If the team’s coach doesn’t play an enforcing role in the use of mouth guards, you will need to be especially vigilant.

Why Do People Refuse to Wear Mouth Guards?

Usually, they’re in one of these camps:
1. They never really considered the risks of not wearing one
2. They have consciously elected to be daredevils
3. It’s not cool to wear one
4. It’s uncomfortable or annoying
We’ve already touched on what ought to matter to the first two categories. So, let’s look at the last two.
It’s not cool!
You may be a little behind the times if you believe this. You may recall that it also took a long time for bike helmets to become cool, too. Maybe you need to get ahead of the curve on this one. There are even mouth guards on the market today that claim to be performance-enhancing for athletes. Stay tuned for that to be scientifically validated, although many professional athletes strongly believe it to be the case. Perhaps you can become a trend-setter by religiously wearing a mouth guard.

It’s uncomfortable or annoying!
It really doesn’t have to be that way. A properly fitted custom mouth guard will not slip when you move, will not keep you from talking, will not keep you from breathing easily, is easy to clean, doesn’t have a bad taste, and is generally resistant to tears. (The tears can contribute to discomfort.) A $15 investment at the sporting goods store is unlikely to provide these same qualities. We can provide a custom fitted mouth guard that can easily offset the cost of trying to save or replace a single tooth.
At Raleigh Comprehensive and Cosmetic Dentistry, we’ll be glad to discuss the practicalities of using a mouth guard with you or your student athlete. We understand that an experience with an over-the-counter mouth guard can create a general aversion to using them. Our mouth guards are produced using a different process than over-the-counter mouth guards, including the ones that are supposed to mold to fit your teeth. A good fit produced with high-quality materials can make all the difference in the world. We also provide custom-fit night guards to help patients who grind their teeth avoid undue wear and tear on their teeth.

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Those suddenly faced with the need to undergo chemotherapy are often already aware of side effects such as nausea and hair loss. Many may be less aware of the impacts to oral health and what, in general, can be done to manage those.

Dental Care Before Chemotherapy

As soon as you are aware that you’ll be undergoing chemotherapy, it’s a good idea to contact your dentist. One of the best ways to avoid or minimize some of the symptoms you might experience is to have your teeth and gums in as healthy condition as possible before chemotherapy begins. If you aren’t already, start brushing and flossing your teeth regularly. At a minimum, you’ll want to have your teeth clean and free of plaque a couple of weeks before treatment begins. Also, make it a point to discuss your normal oral care routines with your dentist and doctor to see if adaptations might be in order to help you preserve your oral health and avoid complications.

Special and more extensive care is warranted for those who have periodontal issues, or are in need of restorative work. That’s why seeing your dentist as soon as possible is a good idea. Your doctor and dentist can work together to determine what treatments should precede treatment, and which need to be deferred. For some types of high-dose chemotherapy or stem cell transplants, it may be necessary to remove braces or other appliances from your mouth before the treatment begins.

Dental Care During Chemotherapy

Because chemotherapy reduces the number of white blood cells in your body, you are more prone to infection, including oral infections, until your white cell count returns to normal. That’s why you want your gums as healthy as possible before chemotherapy starts; infection loves to attack inflamed gums. Different types of chemotherapy are more likely than others to cause mouth sores to develop. If you do develop sores, ask your doctor about the best method of treating them, rather than trying to treat them on your own.

Dry mouth (xerostomia) often develops during chemotherapy, and it can cause its own painful side effects as well as tooth decay. Your dentist or doctor can provide tips on a number of ways to minimize dry mouth, such as avoiding alcohol (in mouthwash and beverages), hard foods, and acidic beverages.
Regularly cleaning your teeth will be important, but you may need to modify your routines. You may need to use a softer toothbrush, use dental floss very gently, and avoid toothpicks if and when your mouth tissues become sensitive and more likely to bleed. It’s also advisable to discuss the need to potentially change the type of toothpaste you use, or how frequently you use it. Your doctor may prescribe a special type of mouthwash for you. Rinsing your mouth can be very helpful, especially to quickly remove stomach acid that can harm your teeth should you experience problems with keeping down food or drink.

In general, you don’t want to have elective (cosmetic) dental work done while undergoing chemotherapy, simply because of the added risk of infection. However, there are situations where restorative dental work is necessary. If you do need to have dental work done during your chemotherapy, your doctor and dentist should work together to determine the best timing. There are certain stages in chemotherapy where you will be more prone to bleeding and infection than others.

Dental Care After Chemotherapy

Many of the oral health issues you may experience will begin to subside on their own after chemotherapy, but they usually will not go away immediately after your last treatment. You may also have new conditions developing (e.g., tooth decay) that have resulted from chemotherapy side effects, such as dry mouth. It is important to resume regular dental care after chemotherapy, but even regular dental treatments (cleaning and polishing) should wait until your oncologist says that your immune system has returned to normal and it is safe to resume treatment.

It can sometimes take as long as 6 to 12 months for your immune system to recover from high-dose chemotherapy. Don’t make your own assumptions about when it is appropriate to have treatment again. Ask your oncologist for specific recommendations on when you can resume your regular dental visit routine, or if you should arrange for a special visit just to have your dentist check the condition of your teeth. Always make sure that your dentist knows that you have undergone chemotherapy when you schedule and attend your next follow-up visit. Your dentist can be a good ally in helping you to restore and maintain your oral health.

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You may have read or heard about a recent study conducted at Yale concerning a potential link between dental x-rays and a specific type of non-cancerous brain tumor called a meningioma. Because the study was published online in April 2012 in the medical journal Cancer, it received significant press coverage that could, in fact, scare people away from having dental x-rays that are needed to preserve their oral and overall general health.
Too frequently, consumers hearing such reports are not provided (or overlook) the context that puts the actual risk into perspective. And too frequently, consumers also lack the context about what type of study is valid for their own decision making, versus what is a study that helps to establish whether there is even a possible hypothesis that warrants an official, well-controlled study. In this case, Yale was reporting findings that were based on patient recollection of x-ray histories spanning decades, rather than actual data. This is technique that is generally proven to introduce study bias and distortion of results. Until such time as a controlled study occurs and results become available, even the Yale study author is encouraging patients not to stop seeing their dentists and to continue to follow the ADA guidelines about having dental x-rays.
As a general safety precaution, you can consider the type of dental x-ray technology being used by your dentist. Digital dental x-rays can result in less radiation, although not all dentists use this newer technology. The quick and easy tip-off as to whether your dentist is using dental x-rays is the large monitors that are located in exam rooms. Digital x-rays offer several advantages:

  •  Lower radiation exposure – Depending on what type of x-ray technology was being used in the past, having digital x-rays can reduce radiation exposure by around 80 percent, as compared to conventional (film) x-rays. It should also be noted that dental bitewing x-rays use only a fraction of the radiation used in most routine medical x-rays, such as chest and gastrology x-rays. The American Dental Association (ADA) reports that “dental X-rays contribute approximately one percent of the total dose of exposure in health care settings.
  • Less time in the dentist’s office – The process for digital x-rays is streamlined. There is no need for you to wait while the film is developing.
  • Better patient communication – The large screen where your dentist displays your x-rays allows you to see any problem areas the dentist is concerned about. It also is a convenient aid in helping you to understand as much as you’d like to know about a recommended treatment procedure.
  • Better basis for comparison – As compared to comparing film x-rays, digital x-rays support digital comparisons. That means you are not wholly dependent on the dentist’s eyes to assess the extent of change from one set of x-rays to the next. This can lead to better preventive treatment – before serious problems develop.
  • Better for the environment – The elimination of chemicals used for (conventional) film development also represents a commitment by your dentist to be more environmentally conscious.

Don’t Be Alarmed by a Preliminary Study, Do Look into Digital X-rays

If the study did cause you to have concerns, don’t be afraid to discuss those with your dentist. The ADA has not changed its recommended policy on the use of x-rays as a result of the study. (Their policy was developed in conjunction with the FDA and published in 2004.) And remember, the reduction in radiation exposure is only one of several benefits associated with the use of digital x-ray technology. The adoption of digital dental x-rays represents a significant financial investment by your dentist to use the best available technology to deliver the best dental care possible. Digital x-rays – they’re worthy of your time and consideration, regardless of the recent Yale study.

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If you knew just half of what saliva does for you, you’d be a lot less inclined to think of it as disgusting, or even to call it “spit.” Those who have ever experienced dry mouth (xerostomia) certainly have a greater appreciation for it. They have firsthand experience of the importance of saliva because it has an impact on their ability to chew, swallow, and even talk. As the song says, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.”

Few people – even those who have experienced dry mouth – understand just how amazing saliva and the salivary system really are. From your grade school science classes, you probably recall that it is important to digestion, but you may think it does nothing more than “wet down” the food. You may be more inclined to know the bad things about it – such as its ability to spread bacteria or disease – than you know about the good things. These are just a few of the interesting complexities that dentists and doctors know and appreciate about saliva.

  • Saliva is the supply chain for maintaining and rebuilding tooth enamel. Your tooth enamel is much like the protective coating on a heavily used piece of furniture; it’s going to wear away, particularly if it softens. Saliva is full of minerals that are constantly being used to restore the surface of tooth enamel. It is depositing calcium and phosphate that helps your tooth enamel grow harder. When you brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste, the amount of fluoride in saliva increases and floats onto teeth where it readily combines with calcium ions that are present there. Together, they create a protective barrier on the surface of tooth enamel that helps it resist acid attack.
    Children are more prone to tooth decay than adults simply because their enamel has not had the opportunity to undergo this mineralization and hardening process as long. If you’re a bit older, you may not realize that the tooth enamel you have today is not at all the same tooth enamel (the same atoms) that you had 20 years ago. Saliva, then, is one of the most important decay preventing agents there is because it builds strong enamel. (Parents, that’s just one more tidbit to help you teach children not to spit on sidewalks. Our mouths really need that saliva!)
  • Saliva is a critical part of your body’s immune system. Too often we think of saliva as being a way of transferring disease to other people. Just like saliva is an important transport system for the minerals that build tooth enamel, it carries many immunoproteins that prevent microbes from overtaking your mouth. Some immunoproteins cause bacteria to aggregate (clump together) so they can be more easily washed away. There are other immunoproteins that work very hard to prevent specific types of oral disease, such as gingivitis. When your gum tissue becomes inflamed, these immunoproteins are produced and released in the saliva, where they go to work trying to prevent the onset of gingivitis. (A word of caution – don’t expect your saliva to “go it alone” in combating gingivitis – you have to do your part to keep your teeth and gums clean, too.)
  • Saliva is an acid neutralizer. While saliva has a pH that is similar to that of water, when acid is present in the mouth, it goes to work to help neutralize acid – whether it is being ingested (orange juice, lemonade, sodas) or from internal sources such as acid reflux. (Once again, that does not mean your saliva can “go it alone.” You need to moderate your intake of acidic substances and seek treatment for acid reflux disease.)
  • Saliva is providing new insights into bodily health. While you might be familiar with the use of saliva for drug testing and DNA testing, you might not know what other insights it is providing. The “beauty” of testing saliva is that collecting it is a simple and non-invasive procedure. It is easy to test once, as well as retest to detect changes that are occurring from test to test. It is commonly used to test for viral infections such as HIV, but there is great promise for its use in diagnosing oral cancers, breast cancer, and hepatitis. Many such tests are currently undergoing clinical trial.

Hopefully, this has helped you change your attitude about saliva. To call it “spit” is to spit in the face of all that it does and might do for you in the future!

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