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The Importance of Saliva

Saliva isn’t something you probably spend much time thinking about. But did you know that every moment of every day it affects your health? Saliva is vital for a healthy mouth, good digestion, and more. Read on to learn how saliva does a body good!

What Is Saliva?

Saliva is a liquid made of water, mucus, proteins, minerals, and an enzyme called amylase. It’s made by the salivary glands, many small organs around the cheeks, lips, tongue, and other parts of the mouth. Tiny tubes called ducts carry the saliva from the glands into your mouth. Small amounts of saliva are sent into the mouth constantly, to keep the mouth moist. But the salivary glands really kick into action when you eat, or even just think about or smell food. Then your glands make lots of saliva, and you can notice much more of it in your mouth.

How Does Saliva Help Your Health?

Saliva does lots of helpful things. Research has shown that it helps protect against gum disease and tooth decay. Your teeth are covered with a thin film of saliva that helps defend against bacteria. There are antimicrobial agents in saliva that help kill bacteria. As saliva moves around the mouth, it helps sweep away small bits of food that could have caused tooth decay. Saliva also carries minerals that help rebuild the enamel surfaces of teeth. Saliva can also help neutralize acids in the mouth during and after eating that break down tooth enamel. 

Saliva also helps you digest food. It contains an enzyme called amylase that helps starches start to break down in your mouth. It also helps you swallow food by making it wet and soft so it can slide down your throat more easily.

When You Don’t Make Enough Saliva 

Some people don’t make enough saliva. This is called dry mouth, which is also known as xerostomia (ZEE-ro-stoh-mee-ah). Certain health conditions, such as Sjögren’s syndrome and diabetes, can cause dry mouth. Cancer treatments can cause dry mouth. And many medications can cause dry mouth, such as those for allergies, high blood pressure, depression, and more.                                                                                                                                                                                     

When you don’t have enough saliva, problems start to happen. Gum disease and tooth decay can happen much more easily. You can have more infections from bacteria, yeast, and fungus. You can also have trouble swallowing and digesting food. Plus, you’ll have the uncomfortable feeling of a dry mouth.                                                                   

If you have a dry mouth:

  • Make sure you drink plenty of water every day. Dehydration can make you create less saliva.

  • Talk with your health care provider to see if you’re taking a medication that causes dry mouth.

  • Chew sugar-free gum and suck on sugar-free candy or mints. This can help you make more saliva.

  • Keep up good dental care by brushing and flossing every day. Ask your dentist if a prescription strength fluoride toothpaste or fluoride rinse would be helpful for you.

  • See your dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings. He or she can help prevent problems and spot them early.

  • See your health care provider if you have white patches or sore spots in your mouth.

  • Ask yourhealth care provider about artificial saliva. He or she can prescribe a rinse or spray to help keep your mouth moist.

  • Avoid foods that are salty, spicy, or acidic — these can dry and irritate your mouth. You may also want to avoid drinking alcohol, which can also dry your mouth. Choose soft and smooth foods, and make foods moist with sauces or broth.

  • Rinse 4-6 times a day with a baking soda solution to reduce bacterial acids that cause cavities. You can make it at home from 2 teaspoons of baking soda in 8 ounces of water.

The effect of saliva on dental caries. George K. Stookey. JADA 2008. http://adajournal.com/content/139/suppl_2/11S.full.pdf Accessed 2013.

Saliva. Encyclopaedia Britannica. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/519396/saliva Accessed 2013.

Salivary flow patterns and the health of hard and soft oral tissues. Colin Dawes. JADA 2008. http://www.jada-plus.com/content/139/suppl_2/18S.full.pdf Accessed 2013.

Saliva & Oral Health. Professor Joachim Klimek, Justus-Liebig University of Giessen, Germany. http://iads-web.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/StuDent-Lecture-Handout.pdf Accessed 2013.

Salivary Glands. American Academy of Otolaryngology. http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/salivaryGlands.cfm Accessed 2013.

Salivary Gland Cancer. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/salivaryglandcancer/detailedguide/salivary-gland-cancer-what-is-salivary-gland-cancer Accessed 2013.

Do You Have Dry Mouth? Journal of the American Dental Association. http://www.ada.org/sections/publicResources/pdfs/patient_19.pdf Accessed 2013.

How Medications Can Affect Your Oral Health. Journal of the American Dental Association. http://www.ada.org/sections/scienceAndResearch/pdfs/patient_51.pdf Accessed 2013.

Dry Mouth. National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. www.nidcr.nih.gov/OralHealth/Topics/DryMouth/DryMouth.htm Accessed 2013.

Saliva (artificial). American Dental Association. www.ada.org/1320.aspx Accessed 2013. 

Dealing with Dry Mouth. Journal of the American Dental Association. http://www.ada.org/sections/scienceAndResearch/pdfs/patient_50.pdf Accessed 2013.

Clinical Protocols for Caries Management by Risk assessment. Journal of the California Dental Association, 2007; volume 35 (10), pages 715-23. http://www.cda.org/Portals/0/journal/journal_102007.pdf Accessed 2013.

 

 

 

Author: Wheeler, Brooke
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