The Power of Spit
When you think of spit most people will think of the verb “to spit”. You can spit to show emotion, to lubricate things on a whim or, for little boys, to gross out their little sisters. We know that spit is actually more important than that.
Saliva is useful for digestion and lubrication of oral tissues. It is full of information about bacteria levels and even provides DNA for research and criminal investigations. Saliva also has the ability to remineralize and demineralize teeth.
Dental decay still runs rampant in our society. Many blame heredity and the inherited “soft teeth” from their parents. I have come across patients, that for years, have been told more brushing and flossing will stop their decay yet the decay continues.
Approximately 2 years ago, I introduced pH testing in my clinical setting on all patients coming in for their preventive appointments. Surprisingly, only a small number of patients were willing to be educated on how a low pH (high acid) saliva affects their teeth. The cost of prevention deterred them from completing a xylitol regimen to increase the pH and starve out the Strep mutans bacteria, the major (but not the only) culprit of the perpetuation of decay. Since xylitol is considered a food (sugar) it cannot be prescribed to our patients like antibiotics can. Food is not covered by a prescription health plan.
Since healthy saliva is the key to stopping the spread of dental decay education is the only way to get the key to the door. Education of patients, and their parents, about the frequency of food/drink ingestion to decrease the amount of acid attacks and the types of food which increase the pH into the neutral zone is needed as well as the introduction of xylitol, if they decide that they want to be more proactive in busting cavities.
During dental exams we examine teeth and gums. How many of us are examining saliva? Clinicians are responsible for education about the whole mouth and everything in it. Spit is important.