When you think about oral health, you probably picture a few things: a toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, floss and the myriad of instruments used by your dentist. But the most important factor in the health of your mouth can’t be found on the shelves of your local drug store.
The one ingredient keeping your mouth clean, healthy and bacteria-free is your own saliva.
Our bodies produce around two to four pints of saliva every day, the least of which is produced at night (hello, morning breath!). When our mouths are dry, the soft tissues like gums, cheeks and tongue become swollen and uncomfortable. In addition, germs aren’t regularly washed out of our mouths with saliva, so a dry mouth becomes a breeding ground, turning your breath less than fresh.
Saliva production protects our mouths by bathing the teeth with invader-fighting antibodies and by keeping our mouth pH neutral. At a low or acidic pH, teeth demineralize and bad bacteria that cause gum inflammation thrive.
The natural pH level of one’s saliva hovers right on neutral in the range of 6.75 to 7.25. A slightly acidic pH can still foster a healthy oral environment. But below a pH of 5.5, teeth can demineralize, leading to a decrease in healthy bacteria and an increase in cavity-causing bacteria.
Having the right mouth pH is a key player in preventing disease. We encourage pregnant women and people on prescription medications that cause dry mouth to be more proactive about their oral health because these situations cause changes in the amount of saliva, which decreases the pH and can ultimately lead to cavities and periodontal disease.
While saliva is your body’s natural protective mechanism, it still needs help because of the amount of sugary and acidic drinks and foods that pass through the mouth. Brushing regularly with toothpaste and flossing every day is absolutely necessary. But not all oral health ingredients work in collaboration with your body. The alcohol in mouthwash can dry out your mouth, so use it in moderation if brushing and flossing alone don’t do the trick.
To keep your mouth clean and your teeth healthy between brushing, try snacking on natural, crunchy snacks like carrots and celery. Cheese, nuts, and milk are also great for your teeth. To help your mouth stay neutral, replace soda with water and rinse with water after drinking coffee, tea, wine or any other beverage that would stain a white T-shirt. Finally, chewing on sugar-free gum or sucking on sugar-free candy can get the salivary glands to produce more saliva.
If you’re having any issues with saliva production, feel like you always have terrible breath, or feel like your mouth is constantly dry, it’s a great idea to talk to your dentist and doctor to find the culprit and determine a solution together.