Saliva and Oral Health

The salivary glands make saliva. On average, we produce 2 to 4 pints of saliva daily. When the amount of saliva is too low, it can lead to dry mouth (xerostomia). Some diseases and medications can interfere with the amount of saliva the body makes. Or dehydration can cause it. An underlying condition may cause chronic dry mouth. The team at Dentistry by Angela Britt wants you to know about the role of saliva in oral health.

The Role of Saliva

Saliva contains substances to fight against decay-causing bacteria. It rinses away plaque, bacteria, acids, and food debris. Saliva has antifungal properties, helps remineralize enamel, and assists with the formation of certain sounds. Also, it allows us to enjoy the tastes and textures of our food. When saliva production is decreased, it can lead to dry mouth.

Causes of Dry Mouth

There are a variety of reasons for dry mouth, such as cancer therapy, medications, aging, and nerve damage to the head or neck. Medical conditions, such as diabetes, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and autoimmune diseases, can cause a dry mouth.

Symptoms of Dry Mouth

The symptoms of dry mouth include thick and stringy saliva; bad breath; altered sense of taste; problems chewing, swallowing, or talking; hoarseness; and difficulty wearing dentures. Also, mouth sores, a burning sensation in the mouth, and lips that are dry and cracked.

Dry Mouth Complications

Chronic dry mouth can lead to acids remaining on the teeth too long and wearing away enamel. Dry mouth sets the stage for a buildup of plaque, bacteria, and food debris, which can cause tooth decay. It also increases the risk of gum disease and thrush (oral yeast infection).

Saliva has a vital role in oral health. To help saliva production, drink plenty of water and limit the consumption of caffeine and alcohol. Use a mouthwash that does not contain alcohol, and chew gum containing xylitol.

For most people, dry mouth is temporary. But, if you’re experiencing chronic dry mouth, you can get help to identify the underlying cause. When was your last dental visit? Contact our office to schedule an appointment. We serve patients in Brunswick, Georgia, and the surrounding areas.

What Do You Know About Gum Disease?

woman covering her mouth in shock

There’s a good chance you or someone you know has gum disease. Periodontitis (gum disease) can cause serious oral health problems. The presence of gum disease can also be a sign of other health problems like diabetes, heart disease, or respiratory ailments.

There are several types of gum disease you need to know about. At Dentistry by Angela Britt, we want to educate you about gum disease because early detection leads to better treatment outcomes.

Types of Periodontal (Gum) Disease

Gingivitis is the early stage of gum disease. Plaque, a sticky film of bacteria on your teeth, causes gingivitis. When plaque contacts the gum line (where the teeth and gums meet), it causes your gums to become red and swollen. Your gums will easily bleed.

Chronic periodontitis is the most common form of gum disease. Plaque below the gumline can turn into chronic periodontitis (advanced gum disease). The bacteria in the plaque spreads infection, which irritates the gums and causes swelling. Untreated gum disease destroys tissue and bone supporting the teeth.

Aggressive periodontitis is the same as chronic periodontitis but progresses quicker. Patients with aggressive periodontitis have rapid gum separation and bone loss. Smokers and patients with a family history of periodontal disease are more likely to get this form of gum disease.

Systemic periodontitis is caused by systemic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, or respiratory disease. The underlying systemic disease can make the gum disease progress quickly even when there is little plaque on the teeth.

Necrotizing periodontitis is a rare form of gum disease found in patients who suffer from malnutrition, immunosuppression, or HIV. It causes mouth ulcers and necrosis (death of tissue). There is severe gum loss and bone destruction.

Signs of Periodontal Disease

  • Gums that bleed easily
  • Tender, red, or swollen gums
  • Persistent bad breath
  • Receding gums
  • Loose permanent teeth
  • Changes in the way your teeth close together

You can prevent gum disease by practicing good oral hygiene. Brush your teeth twice a day and floss at least once a day. Get regular cleanings and dental exams. If it has been six months since your last exam, call our office to schedule an appointment. We serve patients in Brunswick, Georgia, and the surrounding areas.

A Very Real Danger

Female dentist working on a patient from the mouth's perspective

When I remind you that you need to come in for an examination every six months, you may think, ‘Six months, eight months … what’s the difference?’ The truth is, two months could make a difference when it comes to your health. I’m not just talking about tooth decay or gum disease, either. There is a very real danger that could be avoided by being seen by me semi-annually, without fail. What is it?  Oral Cancer.

The Risk of Oral Cancer

Despite what you may think, oral cancer doesn’t just affect those who use tobacco products. While that certainly increases your risk, there are other risk factors, as well, including:

  • Heavy drinking (particularly when combined with tobacco use)
  • Gender, as oral cancers tend to affect more men than women
  • The human papillomavirus
  • Prolonged sun exposure, particularly without sunscreen
  • A weakened immune system

What to Look For

Only the well-trained eye of a professional can detect suspicious spots, but if you have any of the following symptoms, schedule an appointment with me sooner rather than later:

  • A mouth sore that doesn’t go away
  • Persistent pain in the oral tissues
  • A lump or thickened area on the cheek
  • A red or white patch in the oral tissues

Some of these symptoms may be caused by other conditions, but don’t ignore them for too long; after all, it’s far better to be safe than sorry.

The Benefits of Early Diagnosis

Like many cancers, oral cancer is highly treatable when detected early. This is exactly why I like to see you every six months. Not only do I conduct a thorough visual examination of your oral tissues, but I palpate the tissue as well to make sure everything feels as it should. If anything appears abnormal — which I will only know if I see you regularly — we’ll proceed with the next step, which in most cases is a biopsy. Whatever the case may be, early diagnosis increases your chances of survival.

If you’re even a little bit late for your semi-annual appointment, call today to schedule your next exam. From oral cancer to gum disease, oral health is connected to overall health; keeping you healthy is my priority.

Fondly,

Dr. Britt

Diabetes and Gum Disease

close up of person's gums being checked by dentist

A healthy mouth is important for your whole body. This is especially true for patients with diabetes. Presently, there are over 26 million people with diabetes in this country.

Studies have shown that people with diabetes are 2 times more likely to get moderate to severe gum disease. Having diabetes makes the body more susceptible to bacterial infections. Diabetes decreases the ability to fight germs that invade the gums, causing more bone loss. People with diabetes have a poor healing response.

Gum infections can cause high glucose levels to be elevated and at times uncontrolled. High glucose levels in saliva help plaque thrive on your teeth. Plaque is a film of bacteria that develops within hours of eating and releases acids that cause tooth decay. Plaque that is not removed can harden into tartar. When tartar collects, brushing and flossing can become difficult and may even be uncomfortable. This can lead to periodontal disease, a chronic inflammation and infection of the gums.

Warning signs of periodontal disease:

  • Red, swollen, tender gums
  • Bleeding gums
  • Gums pulling away from the teeth
  • Bad breath and/or bad taste
  • Teeth become loose and/or start to separate

Regular professional cleanings, examinations and routine gum testing is so important. Eating a healthy diet, taking medications and insulin as directed by your physician can help you manage the oral complications of diabetes.

Treatment for gum disease is not like it once was. In my office treatment is non-surgical. The cleaning is done gently to reach below the gum where the bacteria hide. Medication is applied for comfort. Laser technology is also used to kill the bacteria and promote tissue attachment healing. With some patients I find the need for Perio Protect Trays. These trays assist in the delivery of medication in the areas of bone loss. Treatment has been very successful with stopping the progression of this disease. Gum disease is not curable, but with maintenance, we achieve improved oral health!

We look forward to seeing your smile!
Dr. Angela Britt