If you’re like most people, saliva is not something that you spend a large amount of time considering. Still, the clear liquid that many take for granted can have a significant impact on your oral health. When there is not enough saliva in your mouth, serious oral health issues, such as infections and dental cavities, are more likely to develop.
Saliva Is a Secretion
Saliva is a secretion that is made up of about 99 percent water. The other components of saliva include various proteins, electrolytes, mucus, minerals, and amylase, which is an enzyme that helps break down starches.
Saliva is produced by small glands that are located in various parts of the mouth. As the saliva is produced, it is transported to your oral cavity through small passageways or ducts. The major sets of glands that produce saliva are located below the mandible, on the sides of the jaws, and below the tongue.
These glands, which are called salivary glands, can be stimulated to produce greater amounts of saliva. Your mouth produces more saliva as you chew or eat. In addition, more saliva may be produced at the thought of food. This is where the term “mouth-watering” originated.
Saliva Protects Your Oral Health
When your mouth has a sufficient level of saliva, your teeth remain better protected. The primary cause of damage to the teeth is tooth decay.
Tooth decay occurs because of bacterial acid. The acid attacks the tooth enamel, dissolving vital minerals.
Acid has a low pH. Alkaline substances, on the other hand, have a higher pH. Saliva includes an alkaline compound called bicarbonate, which helps balance the pH of the oral cavity to minimize the damage from oral acids.
Saliva Is Anti-microbial
Saliva displays anti-microbial abilities. It breaks down the cell walls of some oral bacteria to prevent the microbes from growing.
Saliva Can Remineralize Tooth Enamel
Minerals, such as calcium and phosphorus, are dissolved from the tooth enamel by acids. Saliva can help the minerals reassimilate with the teeth. The remineralization of the teeth is increased in the presence of fluoride, which actually draws the displaced minerals back to the enamel.
Saliva Lubricates the Soft Tissues
Saliva lubricates the soft tissues of the mouth to keep them more comfortable. In a healthy mouth, this lubrication remains consistent because small amounts of saliva are continually produced.
Saliva Dilutes Sugar
The main fuel of many oral bacteria is simple sugars. Saliva can help dilute the sugars, making them less available for the oral microbes.
The Lack of Saliva Causes Dry Mouth
Some people have a condition called dry mouth. Dry mouth, which is also called xerostomia, may be related to other systemic conditions, such as diabetes. Other factors that may lead to dry mouth include radiation treatments and certain medications.
Multiple problems may arise from dry mouth. Here are a few of them:
- Fungal infections. One component of saliva is an antifungal agent called histatin.
- Periodontal disease. The gums can become more easily inflamed by oral acids that are undiluted.
- Bacterial infections. Bacterial growth can increase without the antibacterial activity of saliva, resulting in more oral infections.
- Dental decay. Without the bicarbonate of saliva to neutralize bacterial acids, more enamel damage occurs.
- Digestive problems. Without the proper moistening of the food and the enzymatic action of amylase on dietary starches, the proper breakdown of meals and snacks may not occur. In turn, digestive issues may ensue.
- General discomfort of the mouth. As the soft tissues of the mouth dry out, discomfort may result.
Dry Mouth Can Be Treated
If you suffer from dry mouth, there are things that you can do to help relieve the condition. Here are some of the treatment options for dry mouth:
- Stay hydrated. Proper hydration is needed to create an adequate amount of saliva. Water is the primary component in the secretion.
- Check your medications. Review the side effects of your medicines and talk to your doctor about possible alternatives for medications that cause dry mouth.
- Chew sugarless gum. Chewing sugarless gum promotes the release of more saliva.
- Ask your dentist about artificial saliva. Some prescription mouth rinses are designed to promote moisture within the mouth.
- Skip the alcohol. Alcohol can cause dry mouth. It’s best to avoid alcoholic beverages as well as alcohol-based mouthwashes.
For more information about the importance of saliva, contact our Jacksonville, Florida dental office.