What happens in the mouth after consuming sugary food and drink?
Bacteria in the plaque on teeth produce acid following the consumption of fermentable carbohydrates (mainly sugars and starches), in food and drink. Plaque acid in the mouth can cause the minerals in the tooth’s enamel to be dissolved (demineralisation) causing initial lesions (white spots) which can lead to dental caries.
What are the benefits of saliva?
Saliva has many functions such as:
- Lubrication - facilitating chewing, swallowing and speech
- Cleansing - washing away food debris from the mouth and teeth
- Buffering - neutralises acid production by plaque bacteria
- Digestive - begins the breakdown of carbohydrate
- Remineralisation - helps repair the early stages of tooth decay
- Protection - protects against infection
What would happen if we didn’t have saliva?
A severe absence of saliva in the mouth (dry mouth/xerostomia) can cause:
- difficulty in eating dry foods
- pain or uncomfortable swallowing
- general mouth discomfort
- poor taste
- denture problems
- increased risk of tooth decay
- mouth and salivary gland infections
- speech difficulties
Why is stimulated saliva better than unstimulated?
Stimulated saliva is saturated with bicarbonate buffers, which raise the pH of the saliva, effectively neutralising and buffering food acids and acids arising in plaque from the fermentation of carbohydrate by bacteria. Stimulated saliva also contains a higher concentration of remineralising ions and is therefore more effective at remineralising damaged enamel crystals.
What foods raise plaque pH?
Chewing sugarfree gum stimulates the production of saliva, which helps balance pH in the mouth after eating and drinking and is low in calories. Cheese and peanuts consumed after sugar intakes also show a reversal of the plaque pH fall – however, an increase in eating these foods could lead to an unacceptably increase in dietary fat.