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Oral health

Dental | February 20, 2019 | Author: Naturopath


Oral health

You might be surprised at the importance of our oral space, our mouth. The mouth and its components - tongue, teeth and salivary glands are part of the ‘accessory digestive system’ which also includes the liver, gallbladder and pancreas.

What's going on in your mouth

A bit about Saliva

Salivary glands located in the oral (buccal) cavity, the mouth, secrete a substance called saliva which moistens and lubricates the internal cavity, teeth and pharynx. When swallowed, saliva coats the oesophagus and is reabsorbed back into the body adding to the moisture content of the body.  Salivary glands produce enough saliva to lubricate the tongue and lips during speech and are also involved in the removal of waste molecules from the body.

Saliva is greatly increased when food is introduced into the mouth and aids with digestion by lubricating, dissolving and beginning the chemical digestion of food. Thinking about food, getting close to lunch time or smelling something delicious and you will often notice a burst of moisture in your mouth. This is your salivary glands coming into action. Salivation!

Are you licking your lips right now?

Saliva is made of 99.5% water and 0.5% ions of sodium, potassium, chloride, bicarbonate, and phosphate. Other organic substance includes urea, uric acid, mucus, immunoglobulin A, lysozyme (a bacterial enzyme) and salivary amylase (enzyme that breaks down starch in foods).

Water content of saliva allows for a medium to dissolve substances, this allows for gustatory receptors to taste and begin digestive reactions.

Mucus lubricates, allowing for the food to be easily passed around the mouth, forming a ball and allowing for ease of swallowing. Note the roundness of your next bolus of food before it is swallowed.

Bacterial surveillance - Immunoglobulin A (IgA) prevents the attachment of microbes so they cannot enter the mucosal epithelium (lining of the oral cavity), thus preventing infection. Lysozyme enzymes cause reactions that results in destruction of the bacteria cell wall – killing them.

Feeling thirsty. If you are dehydrated your salivary glands stop producing saliva to allow your body to conserve fluid– resulting a dry mouth and feeling of thirst. Rehydrating not only remoistens the mouth but also returns the body to homeostasis. Feeling thirsty means, you are dehydrated – time for some fluid (water).

Stress results in a dry mouth.

Tongue tasting

The Tongue is a muscle covered with a mucous membrane forming the floor of the oral cavity, along with other associated muscles. Nipple-like projections called papillae coat the tongue and many contain taste buds, responsible for gustatory sensation (taste). Other papillae contain receptors for touch allowing for movement of food around the mouth. Lingual glands secrete mucus and a watery fluid containing the enzymes lingual lipase for triglyceride digestion. This is the beginning of the digestion of dietary fats.

Tongue cleaning can help to reduce the bacterial load in the mucosal coating on the tongue and aid in preventing the build-up of plaque in the mouth, supporting oral hygiene.

Use a brush or a scraper to clean the tongue when performing your usual twice daily dental brushing.
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The mastication of food using teeth to break food down to smaller molecules, and the tongue to move the food around the mouth, allows for more components to be coated with digestive enzymes, mucus and saliva supporting digestion. Why it is good to chew your food well.

What can affect your oral health?

Oral Infection

Periodontitis is a persistent oral infection caused by a dysbiosis of the symbiotic and pathogenic bacteria that live in the mouth. The bacteria’s involved have been implicated in systemic infections such as cardio vascular disease, diabetes mellitus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease. Not only is systemic disease influenced by the oral microbiome bacteria but also plays a role in the development of dental caries and periodontal disease. The oral ecosystem is vital to maintaining both the oral and overall health of the body. The good news is the oral health can be improved with the use of probiotics which can help reduce the load of pathogenic bacteria.
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Upper Respiratory Infection

Upper Respiratory InfectionMumps virus (paramyxovirus) generally attacks major salivary gland called the parotid gland. Inflammation and enlargement followed by other typical signs of infection are symptoms. Other glands can be targeted in nasopharyngeal infections – infections of nose and throat. Immunization means infection with the mumps virus is rare, but upper respiratory infection is common. Support your immune system with vitamin C, zinc and herbs echinacea, eyebright, elderberry nasal solutions containing saline, tea tree or eucalyptus oils.
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Chronic illnesses such as diabetes can cause more diseases of the oral cavity. Gum disease, mouth ulcers, tooth decay, thrush, dry mouth and taste disturbances can affect people with chronic illness more than average. Sugar attracts microbes - bacterial and fungal infections such as candida love a sweet environment to grow. Elevated blood sugar can cause a dry mouth. This can be an issue not only for diabetics, but also for those folks that love their sugar. Some medication can cause changes in taste – such as detecting an unpleasant metallic taste in the mouth. If this is happening to you - check with your doctor or pharmacist if this is from your medicines.


Smoking can reduce the amount of oxygen in the mouth and be a cause of dry mouth increasing the risk of gum disease.


Unfortunately, as we age our oral health can decline. This can be due to such things as poor health, dry mouth/dehydration or poor dental hygiene practices.

Causes of Halitosis (Bad breath)

If you notice (or are informed) you have bad breath you may want to visit your dentist for a check-up to rule out tooth decay.

Other causes include dry mouth (illness, medication, stress, smoking, dehydration), poor oral hygiene (brush, floss and tongue scrape), a coated tongue from dysbiosis and certain foods.

Sulphur producing bacteria in your mouth and throat are responsible for bad breath. Some foods also contain sulphur such as garlic and onions. Other causes can be a post-nasal drip and reflux.
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How to improve the heath of the oral cavity

Perform regular dental hygiene practices such as:

  • Regular visits to your dentist
  • Thorough teeth brushing and tongue cleaning twice daily
  • Floss between teeth daily

Check your diet

  • Drink water to avoid dehydration
  • Limit sugary foods and drinks
  • Eat a well-balanced diet of natural fresh food


  • Quit smoking
  • Supplement with a good quality probiotic 

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Tortora, Gerald J and Derrickson, Bryan 2006 Principles of Anatomy and Physiology 11th edition, John Wiley and sons, Inc, USA

Effects of tongue cleaning on bacterial flora in tongue coating and dental plaque: a crossover study

The Comparative Evaluation of the Effects of Tongue Cleaning on Existing Plaque Levels in Children

Oral Dysbiotic Communities and Their Implications in Systemic Diseases

Role of microbial communities in the pathogenesis of periodontal diseases and caries.

Probiotics and oral health: A systematic review.

The oral microbiome – an update for oral healthcare professionals

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