The Importance of Water to Oral Health
February is designated by the National Dental Association as National Children’s Dental Health Month, and this year, the theme is the importance of water for a healthy smile. But that’s just as true for adults as it is for children. We emphasize the importance of water not only as an alternative to other drinks that might cause damage, but because water itself has protective qualities for the oral biome. And although children tend to be at greater risk for tooth decay, adults commonly struggle with the effects of dry mouth and cosmetic concerns. This month, we’re going to take a closer look at water’s relationship with the most common aspects of dentistry and why it’s so important to stay hydrated.
The Process of Tooth Decay
Tooth decay is the result of certain species of oral bacteria secreting acid as a waste product. As acid accumulates and gets stuck on teeth, it causes enamel to decay and the gums to recede. When our teeth are coated in simple sugars, bacteria are able to eat and replicate rapidly, leading to faster, more widespread decay. For this reason, dentists recommend water as an alternative to milk, juice, and soda, particularly in children who are too young to brush their own teeth and who take swigs from a bottle throughout the day. Children’s teeth also tend to have softer enamel, causing them to decay more rapidly.
In addition to fueling faster bacterial growth, carbonated beverages, some energy drinks, and citric juices are acidic in their own right. But drinking water doesn’t just wash away sugary residue and acid. Saliva helps to keep the mouth at a neutral pH level, mitigating the effects of introduced acid as well as that produced by bacteria. Enzymes contained in saliva also help to combat the growth of bacteria and fungus.
Consequences of Dry Mouth
Dry mouth is one of the reasons why people with diabetes, autoimmune conditions, or who are taking certain kinds of medications tend to suffer bleeding gums at higher rates. In addition to combating pathogens, neutralizing acid, and washing away residue, saliva assists in digestion and swallowing and keeps the mouth lubricated. In people with dry mouth, soft oral tissues are more vulnerable to physical and chemical injury. People with dentures who develop dry mouth may also experience the growth of yeast on their denture ridges, and people with fixed braces are at greater risk for abrasions.
People with dry mouth also tend to have more cosmetic and lifestyle issues. One of the early stages of tooth decay is the development of white patches on enamel, and bacteria on the tongue are the main cause of bad breath. The loss of saliva may also impact a person’s ability to taste food, and they may become less tolerant of spice.
Water and a Healthy Lifestyle
Drinking water throughout the day, and as the main liquid you consume, is essential for a smile you’re proud of. All other health concerns aside, water won’t cause tooth discoloration the way dark-colored liquids such as coffee, tea, and dark soft drinks will, and fluoridated water is a major reason for why tooth decay has become less common among the younger generations. You may even want to consider bringing bottles of fluoridated water with you if you’re going somewhere with well-water. You can help toddlers avoid tooth decay by limiting milk and juice to set mealtimes when they’re producing more saliva, and by putting water in their bottles in between meals. Try to remind older children to use water, as opposed to just sports drinks, to stay hydrated while at play. And keep in mind that dry mouth is a serious enough medication side effect to justify asking your physician if it’s possible for you to get an alternative or something else to mitigate it, such as a throat moisturizer.
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