11 Mar
Dental professional taking saliva sample from patient's mouth

Saliva the Unsung Hero: Maintaining Balanced pH For Optimal Oral Health

The role of saliva in maintaining oral health often goes underappreciated. We're well aware of how our diet affects our overall health, but its impact on our oral health, particularly the salivary pH balance, is often overlooked. Could your saliva be negatively affecting your teeth or oral health?  Let's explore the significance of maintaining a proper pH in the mouth, how it changes, and what steps you can take to keep it healthy.

Beyond the Taste: Saliva’s Multifaceted Functions in the Mouth

Saliva isn't just water in our mouths; it's a complex fluid that serves multiple crucial functions. It protects, cleanses, moistens, and lubricates our gums and teeth, forming a barrier against harmful bacteria. While many attribute tooth decay solely to sugar consumption, it's the process by which bacteria metabolize sugars that truly damages the oral microbiome. This metabolic process releases acidic waste byproducts, lowering the pH of saliva and creating an environment ripe for oral disturbances.

But thankfully, our saliva comes to the rescue again, by restoring the pH balance in our mouth. It does this through what scientists call "saliva buffer capacity". Salivary buffering agents neutralize the acidity and bring the oral environment back to a healthier pH level, mitigating the effects of those acid attacks on your enamel. It's almost as if your mouth has its own built-in, always-on, defense system, quietly working away in the background to keep your mouth healthy!

Why pH Balance Matters: The Chemistry of a Healthy Mouth

You might remember the term 'pH level' from your high school chemistry classes. In simple terms, it's a measure that dictates whether a given substance is acidic or alkaline, operating on a scale that ranges from 0 to 14. A substance with a pH value of 7 is taken as neutral. Anything below that is considered acidic, while values above suggest alkalinity. The image below shows this pH scale with some examples of foods, drinks and home products for additional clarity.

Illustration of pH Scale

Now, you're probably asking, what does all this talk about acidity, alkalinity and pH levels have to do with oral health? Well, a lot!

The pH of saliva plays a pivotal role in supporting oral and overall health. A balanced pH is crucial for the health of our heart, teeth, and soft tissues in the oral cavity. In our oral cavity, a neutral pH of around 7 is ideal, but achieving this balance can be challenging. A range between 6.0 and 7.0 is generally considered optimal, while anything below 6.0 is acidic and poses risks to oral health.

The saliva in our mouth works extremely hard to maintain this desired balanced environment. When we eat or drink, especially items that are sugary or acidic, the pH level in the mouth can plummet, creating an acidic environment which can be a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. These bacteria are tricky; on top of causing all sorts of dental concerns like cavities and gum disease, they also produce an acid of their own as a form of waste. It’s a continuous, self-serving cycle for them!

But here’s where our hero, saliva, comes into play. It jumps into action to neutralize these acids and restore the mouth to its optimal pH balance as quickly as possible, defending our teeth and gums. And that is why pH balance in our mouth is a big deal.

Maintaining a Healthy pH Level

So, how do we ensure our saliva maintains a healthy pH level? Regular hydration and a balanced diet can go a long way in helping saliva do its job effectively.

But, it starts with understanding what contributes to pH imbalance. Carbohydrates, particularly sugars, play a significant role. When bacteria metabolize carbohydrates, they produce acidic byproducts, lowering the pH of saliva. To counteract this, it's essential to minimize sugar intake and opt for a balanced diet rich in nutrients. Reducing the intake of soft drinks and beverages such as alcohol, coffee, energy drinks, and dairy is also beneficial in restoring your saliva's pH. These beverages often contain high levels of sugars and acids, which can contribute to pH imbalance and oral health issues.

Tips for Maintaining Optimal pH Balance in Your Mouth

  • Monitor Your Diet: Limit your consumption of sugary and acidic foods and beverages. Opt for a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Stay Hydrated: Drinking water helps maintain saliva flow and neutralizes acids in the mouth.
  • Practice Good Oral Hygiene: Brushing and flossing regularly help remove food particles and bacteria, preventing plaque buildup and pH imbalance.
  • Chew Sugar-Free Gum: Chewing stimulates saliva production, promoting a neutral pH and aiding in the remineralization of teeth.
  • Limit Sugary and Acidic Beverages: Reduce your intake of soft drinks, alcohol, coffee, energy drinks, and dairy products to maintain a healthy pH in saliva.
  • Regular Dental Checkups: Talking to your dental professional is helpful. Routine dental visits allow your dentist to monitor your oral health and address any issues early on.
  • Don’t brush your teeth directly after eating or drinking: This can cause more harm than not. Always wait at least 30-60 minutes after eating or drinking, especially anything acidic. Acid likes to attack your teeth after you’ve eaten, hurting your enamel. It’s best to wait so your saliva can remineralize and restore your enamel back to its previous state.
  • Use products with Xylitol: Xylitol is a natural sugar found in plants. Although xylitol is considered an artificial sweetener it does not actually contain any sugar. It is a sugar free compound that helps prevent cavities, reduce plaque and stimulates saliva. Xylitol can be found in many things such as chewing gum, lozenges, mints and xylimelts. Using these aids can help to stimulate saliva production, promoting a neutral pH and aiding in the remineralization of teeth.

The Impact of pH Imbalance

When pH levels in saliva drop, it becomes more acidic, leading to a host of oral health issues. These include an increased risk of cavities, dry mouth, enamel erosion, altered taste, slow wound healing, and periodontal disease. Moreover, systemic diseases such as Alzheimer's, cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disorders, and diabetes have been linked to pH imbalance in saliva.

Final Thoughts on Saliva pH and Oral Health

The vital role of saliva in supporting oral health and the pivotal significance of maintaining a balanced pH cannot be overstated. Through its mineralizing capacity - coating our teeth with essential minerals like calcium, fluoride, and phosphate - saliva offers a robust defensive line for our teeth. Meanwhile, contributing to the optimal mouth pH range of 6 to 7, saliva acts as a key player in neutralizing excessive acidity from our food and drink - safeguarding our overall health by preventing tooth decay and other oral health problems.

In conclusion, maintaining a balanced pH in saliva is crucial for optimal oral health and overall well-being. By adopting healthy dietary habits, practicing good oral hygiene, limiting sugary and acidic beverages, and staying hydrated, you can help ensure that your saliva remains in an optimal pH range. Remember, your oral health is intricately linked to your overall health, so prioritize caring for your oral ecosystem. Your smile will thank you for it!

Wondering How pH Balance In Your Mouth Affects Your Oral Health?

We hope this blog post helps explain what happens when the pH level in your mouth is not properly balanced, and how that may pave the way for several oral health issues and impact your overall well-being. For more questions or advice on salivary pH imbalance and how to effectively maintain proper pH levels, please give us a call or schedule a dental appointment online with one of our dental hygienists or Dr. Tufa. We are here to help!

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Aleta S.

Aleta is a laser certified dental hygienist extraordinaire who loves helping her patients keep their teeth clean and healthy. She is passionate about educating and informing patients about latest dental hygiene advancements and being with them through every step of their journey to optimal oral health.