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Acidic or Alkaline Saliva


In a healthy mouth, your teeth are bathed in a thin, watery liquid called saliva. When saliva becomes acidic, even temporarily, it has the potential to dissolve minerals from the outer enamel that covers your teeth. When tooth minerals dissolve away, your teeth will become weaker and more porous, more sensitive to temperature, and more easily stained.
The chemistry of your saliva can change for many reasons (see the list in chapter 3). Sometimes those changes in salivary acidity are temporary; sometimes they are more permanent. Changes can sometimes be intense, as when gastric acid enters the mouth with acid reflux or from soft drinks; citric, apple, and grape juices; or frozen fruit juice in beverages or ice pops. Research has shown that frozen juices cause the greatest mouth acidity, and refrigerated fruit juices are more damaging than those drunk at room temperature.1
Acid-producing mouth bacteria also increase overall mouth acidity, but the place where these bacteria lodge, close against the tooth surface, is usually where there is the greatest acid concentration and therefore the greatest chance of tooth damage. Such areas are between teeth (where teeth touch each other) and inside the pits and grooves on biting surfaces of molar teeth.
In a healthy, normal mouth, chewing and eating foods stimulates nonacidic saliva flow. Saliva is produced by glands in cheek tissues, under the jaw, and all around the skin inside your mouth. Saliva helps us digest food and also washes away food particles stuck on teeth and gums. One of the greatest dental benefits of healthy saliva is that it contains minerals necessary for rebuilding the strength of enamel. Nonacidic—that is, neutral, or alkaline—saliva also dilutes acidic liquids in your mouth and around your teeth. In these ways, saliva makes its contribution as an acid-reducing system and a tooth-protecting mechanism essential for tooth health. The greater amount of healthy saliva you have in your mouth, the more tooth cleansing, remineralization, and protection you will have.
The consistency or thickness of saliva is also important for tooth health because saliva is needed to lubricate teeth. Whenever you clench your teeth or chew, the lubrication of saliva on opposite surfaces prevents damaging them. In a dry mouth, teeth can become severely worn, just as parts of a car engine might be if they ran without oil.
Saliva flow varies for every person and also at different times of the day. It increases at mealtimes and slows down while we sleep. Without saliva, there is little protection for teeth and, in a dry mouth, little or no natural repair. Consequently, tooth enamel can become especially vulnerable and quickly damaged.
If you have upper or lower front teeth that are not covered by your lips because your lips are thin or perhaps your teeth are longer, those teeth will be drier and less protected than other teeth. Any teeth that are dry and not bathed in the saliva of your mouth will be at greater risk for cavities and dental problems. Many toddlers and small children have lips that do not close completely, and their teeth are often dry and unprotected, especially while they sleep. Dentists call this problem incomplete lip closure, and patients with front teeth that are often or always exposed to the air become very dry because they are not bathed in saliva in the normal way. Cavities form quickly on the smooth front and back surfaces of these dry and unprotected teeth, unless special care is taken to protect them.
Thus, the amount of saliva is just as important as the acidity level of saliva for the health of your teeth. Laboratory tests such as the Saliva-Check Buffer Kit made by GC America can tell whether you have less saliva than normal and can analyze its chemistry. The rate at which saliva flows into the mouth can also be measured using CRT bacteria and Dentocult laboratory testing. Such tests may be used for people who have a severely dry mouth because of disease or radiation damage, but most people are aware if their mouth feels dry.
Even in a dry mouth, however, there are a variety of ways to increase salivary flow and help ensure that adequate minerals are available for building and strengthening teeth. Building tooth strength benefits your teeth the same way strength training increases bone density in order to resist osteoporosis, fractures, and other bone problems in later life.

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