One of the biggest factors in oral health is moisture; the presence of saliva is essential to easy digestion and protecting you against gum disease, tooth decay, and halitosis (bad breath).
Saliva, the liquid naturally present in your mouth, is a blend of water, mucus, proteins and minerals, and amylase enzymes. It is created by two types of salivary glands - some that produce the watery fluid and some that create the mucus components - that are located around your mouth, particularly near the cheeks, lips, and tongue.
Your salivary glands automatically sends saliva into your mouth constantly, keeping your mouth moist, and increase production when you’re eating, smelling or sometimes even just thinking about food!
What does oral moisture do?
- Protects against gum disease and tooth decay. When dry mouth occurs, only the mucus portion of saliva is created and it effectively becomes a glue-like substance that causes bacteria and other things to stick to your teeth and mouth.
- Helps move things out of your mouth. As you naturally move saliva around your mouth and swallow, food and other small substances are swept out of your mouth.
- Helps digest food, rebuild enamel, and neutralize acids. The minerals and enzymes found in saliva helps to break down your food for easy digestion, neutralize acids that can harm your tooth enamel, and remineralize the surface of your teeth.
However, many things can cause xerostomia, or dry mouth, which is when your body doesn’t produce enough saliva. Xerostomia can be caused by a wide variety of things, including health conditions like diabetes and medication for things like allergies, high blood pressure, and depression; cancer treatments can also cause long-term dry mouth. A study published in 2010 found that long-term smoking significantly reduces the rate of salivary flow, leading to an increase in oral and dental disorders that are associated with dry mouth, including halitosis, gingivitis, tooth mobility, and cervical caries.
Tammy Brown, a dental hygienist, recommends that in addition to drinking lots of water and emphasizing good oral care, that people use a mouth rinse when their mouths are dry, if they are experiencing mouth sores, and especially before going to bed! “Often people will fall asleep and breathe through their mouth,” she explains, which leads to increased dry mouth and bad breath.