A healthy adult produces about three pints of saliva each day. It's not the kind of thing you would give thought to very often, but that saliva plays a very important role in maintaining your health.
Saliva serves many purposes. It contains enzymes that aid in digestion. Saliva makes it easier to talk, a fact recognized by those who experience stage fright and the associated dry mouth while giving a presentation.
Saliva also helps prevent tooth decay by washing away food and debris from the teeth and gums. It neutralizes damaging acids, enhances the ability to taste food and makes it easier to swallow. Minerals found in saliva also help repair microscopic tooth decay.
Everyone, at some time or another, experiences dry mouth, also called "xerostomia." It can happen when you are nervous, upset or under stress or as a result of medication you take or other medical therapies. If dry mouth happens all or most of the time, however, it can be uncomfortable - and it can have serious consequences for your oral health.
Drying irritates the soft tissues in the mouth, which can make them inflamed and more susceptible to infection. Without the cleansing effects of saliva, tooth decay and other oral health problems become much more common.
Regular dental checkups are important. At each appointment, report any medications you are taking and other information about your health. An updated health history can help identify a cause for mouth dryness.
Increasing fluid intake, taking frequent sips of water or sucking on ice chips may help. Your dentist or physician may recommend using artificial saliva, also called "saliva substitute" or "oral moisturizer," to keep the mouth moist. Avoid tobacco and restrict your intake of caffeine, alcohol and carbonated beverages.
Because dry mouth increases the opportunity for tooth decay and other problems, it is critical that you take good care of your teeth and gums. Brush twice a day, and floss or use another interdental cleaner once a day to remove debris from between the teeth where your toothbrush cannot reach.
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