Role of Saliva in Protecting Against Cavities
Saliva is made primarily of water, but it contains critical enamel rebuilding minerals and salivary mucins, which are compounds that offer protection from the bacteria that cause cavities. Salivary mucins are glycoproteins that give saliva its gel-like, slippery properties, but according to a recent Harvard study, they also actively keep your mouth healthy by defending it against bacteria.
The study, which was published in “Applied and Environmental Microbiology,” revealed that salivary mucins keep S. mutans, the bacteria that cause cavities, suspended in liquid, which makes it harder for them to form plaque on your teeth. Plaque is a natural biofilm that consists of densely packed microbes that secrete sticky substances, allowing them to adhere tightly to the teeth. You can remove plaque with brushing and flossing, but preventing it is ideal.
While previously preventive dentistry has focused on external treatments, such as dental sealants and fluoride, we may in the future focus on using our body’s own natural defenses. Since S. mutans can only cause cavities when adhered to teeth, this suspension effect of salivary mucins can help prevent tooth decay. Mucins do not kill S. mutans or affect their overall levels.
Healthy saliva flow is something you may not think about until you experience dry mouth, which can be a common side effect of some health conditions or medications. Sugar-free candies and gum can help relieve the discomfort of dry mouth, but saliva replacement products may be necessary for some patients. If tooth decay is severe and untreated, it can necessitate a root canal or extraction. Call our office today to schedule your next appointment with Dr. Frame.
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