Do You Know Your Saliva pH? Here's Why It's Important

Mother and Daughter Drink Milk to Restore Saliva pH

Your dental and medical professionals take many measurements to assess your health. Height, weight and blood pressure are some obvious indicators, but they're not the only ones. While you probably never think about your saliva pH, this measurement can also be important.

The pH scale measures a substance's acidity or alkalinity. The scale ranges from 0 to 14, with 7 representing neutrality. As an article published in Scientifica explains, the normal pH of saliva is between 6.7 and 7.4, making it relatively neutral. Learn more about what this measurement indicates for your oral health.

Factors Impacting Saliva pH

The food and drinks you consume, especially sugary ones like soda, affect the pH of your mouth, explains the Scientifica article. When you eat or drink, the bacteria in your mouth break down carbohydrates. These bacteria release various types of acids, which lower your saliva pH.

Tobacco use can also affect salivary pH. A study published in the Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology examined the salivary pH of three groups of people: tobacco smokers, tobacco chewers and non-tobacco users. The first two groups had significantly lower salivary pH than the latter group, meaning tobacco made their saliva more acidic.

How Saliva pH Affects Dental Health

Your salivary pH can have serious implications for your dental health. While tooth enamel is the hardest substance in the body, it can be damaged by acidic saliva. When the pH of your saliva drops below 5.5, your tooth enamel starts to break down, notes the Scientifica article. Unfortunately, since tooth enamel can't grow back, this damage is permanent, reports the American Dental Association (ADA). If your enamel has been eroded by acids, your teeth might be sensitive. You could also notice discomfort when you drink hot, cold or sweet beverages. Yellowish discoloration is another warning sign of enamel erosion.

Enamel erosion also paves the way for another dental issue: cavities, which are small holes in the tooth surface. When your enamel erodes away, bacteria can more easily attack your teeth with acid and cause these holes. As the Scientifica article notes, the longer your teeth are exposed to low (acidic) salivary pH, the likelier you are to develop cavities.

Cavities don't heal by themselves, so you'll need to see your dentist for treatment. Dentists may repair small cavities with fillings, while larger cavities may require more extensive restorations, such as crowns.

Tips to Restore Your Saliva's pH

If you're worried about the pH level of your saliva, talk to your dentist. They can measure your saliva's acidity using a special tool called a pH meter, explains the Scientifica article. Your dentist may recommend additional treatments to restore your saliva's pH levels, if necessary.

Fortunately, you can take steps to help control your salivary pH at home. The ADA recommends the following tips to protect your teeth from acids:

  • Avoid or limit soft drinks and other acidic beverages.
  • Avoid swishing acidic beverages around your mouth.
  • Rinse your mouth with water after you eat or drink.
  • Chew sugarless gum to increase your saliva flow and wash away acids.
  • Drink milk or eat foods that contain calcium, like cheese, which neutralize acids.

While few people think about their salivary pH, it is an important health indicator. If your saliva is too acidic, you could develop oral health problems like cavities and enamel erosion. To learn more about your personal salivary pH, talk to your dentist.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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Tobacco's greatest threat to your health may be its association with oral cancer. The American Cancer Society reports that:

  • About 90 percent of people with mouth cancer and some types of throat cancer have used tobacco. The risk of developing these cancers increases as people smoke or chew more often or for a longer time.

  • Smokers are six times more likely than nonsmokers to develop these cancers.

  • About 37 percent of patients who continue to smoke after cancer treatment will develop second cancers of the mouth, throat or larynx. While only 6 percent of people who quit smoking will develop these secondary cancers.

  • Smokeless tobacco has been linked to cancers of the cheek, gums and inner surface of the lips. Smokeless tobacco increases the risk of these cancers by nearly 50 times.7