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San Jose Dentist Explains Saliva’s Role in Cavity Prevention

Posted Dec 13 2012 3:26pm

Much is made of the preventability of tooth decay. Since childhood, many of us have been taught to brush and floss our teeth and refrain from candy to prevent cavities. However, 90% of adults in America under the age of 59 have had tooth decay in at least one of their permanent teeth, and cavities are still the number one chronic illness in school-aged children. Surprisingly, our mouths work to fight against the development of tooth decay whether we assist it or not. San Jose dentist, Dr. Randall LaFrom , explains how saliva helps neutralize the acids that cause tooth decay.

Understanding Tooth Decay

To understand saliva’s fight against cavities, you must first understand how tooth decay develops and progresses. When you eat or drink, the bacteria in your mouth also consume nutrients. Some bacterial strains, like Streptococcus mutans , produce lactic acid as a waste product of this metabolization, and the acid it produces is what attacks and erodes your tooth enamel (the protective, highly-mineralized substance that covers your tooth). The acids also sap minerals from your teeth (demineralization), making it harder for your enamel to strengthen itself. If additional enamel- friendly minerals, like calcium and phosphate, are introduced, then your enamel can remineralize itself to better withstand the attacks. Saliva contains amounts of these minerals, making it a valuable ally to your tooth’s enamel in times of danger. If the acids weaken the enamel enough before it can remineralize, however, then bacteria can slip past it and infect the inner tissues of your tooth, leading to the advancement of tooth decay.

Saliva to the Rescue

Other than keeping your mouth moist and making the process of eating easier, saliva serves a grand purpose in the big picture of your oral health. In the case of tooth decay, one of saliva’s primary benefits deals with your mouth’s pH levels (the acid-alkaline balance). The low end of the pH scale indicates increasing acidity, and the higher end relates to increased alkalinity. The middle ground, or neutral pH, lies around seven, which is also the pH level of water and saliva. When acids are introduced to your mouth, the pH level drops, making your oral environment hospitable for them to go about their business. Once the pH level reaches below 5.5, your mouth is officially acidic enough for the organic acids to begin their destructive work. Your saliva, with its neutral pH, works to raise the pH level of your mouth back up to the more comfortable neutral level.

Maintain Your Healthy Mouth

Brushing and flossing help limit the bacteria in your mouth that produce acid, decreasing your chance of developing tooth decay. If you’d like to learn more about maintaining your oral health, or if you’re due for a dental checkup, schedule a consultation with your Dr. LaFrom at our Cupertino dentist office by calling (408) 996-8595. We serve patients from Saratoga, Campbell, Sunnyvale, San Jose, and Santa Clara County.


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