Salivary Testing: Fighting Gum Disease and Cavities with Science

Have you ever wondered why some people get cavities while others with perhaps less diligent dental hygiene don’t? 

The reason often lies in the components of one’s saliva. 

Saliva supports oral health and is responsible for much more than helping facilitate digestion. It helps us swallow, keeps oral tissues lubricated, protects against pathogens, remineralizes teeth, and maintains a neutral pH in the mouth. 

At the forefront of science, Mill Point Dental uses salivary testing to detect an increasing number of oral diseases, including dental caries (cavities) and periodontitis (gum disease). This technology is helping save not only the teeth of Central Oregonians but their money too. 

Salivary Testing for Resistant Dental Caries

You may be surprised to learn (especially from your dentist) that brushing and flossing alone isn’t always enough to maintain good oral health. The health of your saliva can directly impact your risk for cavities. 

After eating, the acids found in bacteria and sugar settle on the teeth. The acids cause demineralization of the teeth. A loss of minerals increases the chance of developing cavities. Saliva can neutralize acids and allow remineralization. However, for some people, this isn’t so easy. 

Most people have relatively neutral saliva with a pH of 6.6 to 7.1. But certain health conditions, such as dry mouth and some medications, can cause low saliva flow (dry mouth). Dry mouth = more acidic pH, making it difficult to neutralize acids. This can result in a problem with chronic cavity formation. People who have cavities resistant to standard therapies can benefit from salivary testing. The information gleaned through testing can inform the specific treatments needed to target pathogens in the saliva and rebalance the pH.

Salivary Testing for Treatment-Resistant or Severe Periodontitis

Over half of American adults have periodontal (gum) disease. Periodontitis is a fairly common but preventable infection of the gums that can lead to tooth loss and, if left untreated, bone loss. 

How Periodontitis Occurs

When sticky plaque is left on the tooth, it hardens into tartar, which is filled with bacteria and is much more difficult to remove (that’s what the hygienist is scraping off your teeth when you come in for a cleaning). The longer tartar remains on the teeth; the more damage can be done to the tooth and its surrounding tissue. 

When gum tissue becomes inflamed, gingivitis occurs. But if the gums remain inflamed, pockets form between the gum and tooth. These pockets are brimming with plaque, tartar, and bacteria. Eventually, the pockets become deep infections, resulting in tooth and bone loss and can lead to severe health issues, such as cardiovascular disease. 

Like most things, gum disease is best caught as early as possible. Periodontitis is preventable through proper dental hygiene, dental cleanings, and dental examinations. But when a person does not respond to traditional therapies, further testing is needed to determine the underlying cause. Salivary testing provides this information via bacterial DNA, which shows the exact pathogens causing the problem. Once we know the source, we can treat it. 

“We use salivary testing to help identify the specific bacteria that is responsible for the infection so we can use proper therapies to target the origin and treat more effectively,” said Chelsea Longlet, DDS. 

At Mill Point Dental, we are committed to using the most advanced technology to inform patients about the treatments we provide. Prevention is the cornerstone of our care. But when prevention isn’t enough, we aim to use targeted therapies to get to the root of your dental concern. If you’d like to learn more about salivary testing, schedule an appointment to talk with your dentist or dental hygienist.