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Don't Drill - Drool!

"Many people don't realize what an important role saliva plays in preventing dental decay," says visiting Australian dental expert, Professor Laurence Walsh. "Dry mouth is a common problem seen by dentists, and may not give obvious symptoms in those dental patients who suffer from it."

With the support of the New Zealand Dental Association, Professor Walsh and his colleague, Dr Hien Ngo, are touring New Zealand during February to lecture our dentists about treatment of caries, or as most of us know it, tooth decay.

"People who produce less saliva are more at risk of developing caries than those who salivate normally," says Professor Walsh, whose research on decay has been published in a number of international dental journals.

Most of us produce about 15 mL of saliva during an 8 hour sleep. During the other 14 hours of the day, we produce about 700 mL. That's nearly three quarters of a litre! Saliva production dramatically increases when we eat.

For most of us, 715 mL of saliva a day is enough to prevent holes in our teeth (as long as we avoid sugary foods and drinks, and take care of our teeth with regular brushing and flossing). But some factors can affect normal saliva flow, and that's when teeth become unprotected from harmful oral bacteria.

Saliva flow can be affected by a number of causes - alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, strenuous physical activity, stress, depression, medical disorders and medication. Professor Walsh says that over-the-counter medication is often overlooked as a cause for reduced saliva. Common medications such as cough syrups and cold tablets can inhibit saliva production.

"Fortunately, the protective properties of saliva can be boosted by encouraging saliva flow. For patients who chew a sugar-free gum regularly, there is a sustained improvement in the quality of saliva produced between meals. For those with problems of tooth decay or dental erosion, specially formulated chewing gums provided by a dentist can help boost the abilities of saliva to arrest the destructive process," says Professor Walsh.

"Baking soda is one of the main protective chemicals found in normal saliva, and is useful as a mouthrinse or in toothpastes."

New Zealand Dental Association Executive Director, Dr Robin Whyman, strongly supports the early prevention of tooth decay. "A recent survey of dental patients shows that many New Zealander's could be taking better care of their oral health" he says. "Professor Walsh is teaching some important new information about tooth decay, which our dentists can use to help their patients."

Professor Walsh will be reinforcing the saliva message to NZ dentists and will be lecturing on other new developments in dental caries research between 18-22 February. He will be visiting Napier, Palmerston North, New Plymouth, Hamilton and Auckland.


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