Most people don’t give their spit a second thought when going about their day-to-day life – but saliva plays an important role in maintaining oral health.
From keeping soft and hard tissues healthy to aiding digestion, saliva is more essential than you might think. Without saliva, a dry mouth can be more than just uncomfortable.
So, what exactly is saliva, and why do we need it? This blog explains what saliva does and what you should do if you aren’t producing enough saliva.
Saliva is a fluid that’s at least 95% water but is also made up of mucus and various electrolytes, enzymes, immunoglobins, proteins, and antibacterial or nitrogenous compounds.
These combined components help to break down food when you eat, which is one of the main functions of saliva – and the reason why there’s usually more saliva in your mouth while you’re eating, as chewing activates your salivary glands.
The salivary glands are located inside the cheeks, under the tongue at the bottom of the mouth, and near the front of the jawbone. These produce enough saliva to keep your mouth moist, and enough to support digestion when you consume food and drink.
Saliva is your mouth’s defence against any bacteria that may enter, forming a lubricated barrier across your tongue, gums, cheeks, and the inside of your mouth. This lubrication is also what keeps your mouth comfortably moist and allows you to speak smoothly.
You wouldn’t be able to taste food without saliva helping the molecules to interact with your taste buds, nor could you chew or swallow properly without saliva enzymes helping to break food down and carry it down your throat without irritating the tissues.
The cycling of spit through your mouth is also necessary for cleaning, helping to dilute sugars and dislodge food particles that could feed the bad bacteria that cause tooth decay.
Saliva helps to keep your teeth strong and protects your tooth enamel, neutralising acids that can break down enamel and remineralising tooth surfaces.
Additionally, saliva can be tested to identify potential disease risks, as the proteins and DNA in spit can help to diagnose viruses, allergies, fertility issues, some types of cancer, and more.
If you do not produce enough saliva, your mouth can become very dry – a condition that is called xerostomia, more commonly referred to as simply ‘dry mouth’.
Without the lubricated barrier or cleansing action of saliva, the soft tissues in your mouth can become irritated and inflamed by a build-up of harmful bacteria.
This can cause the development of gingivitis (gum inflammation) or periodontitis (infected gums), which can not only be painful but typically leads to tooth decay and the development of cavities if the gum disease isn’t treated.
Gum infections and decaying teeth can also result in halitosis (bad breath) and affect your ability to taste, which can be quite unpleasant to live with.
There are many reasons why a person might have a dry mouth, which include:
Many over-the-counter or prescribed medications can also affect saliva flow, including antihistamines for allergies, appetite suppressants, some blood pressure drugs, antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs, and some analgesics (painkillers).
Fortunately, there are several things you can do to keep dry mouth at bay.
If you want to keep your saliva healthy and ensure that you produce the right amount of saliva to maintain your oral health, here are a few helpful tips:
Should you have consistent trouble with a lack of saliva that’s affecting your gums and teeth, you need to go and see your dentist as soon as possible for an assessment.
You should be visiting your dentist for a check-up at least once a year, and seeing a dental hygienist to have your teeth and gums professionally cleaned at least twice a year.
Our dentists in Warrington would be happy to see you here at Dental Solutions, where we can assess the health of your mouth and advise you on treatments that could help.