Saliva is an important part of a healthy body. It is mostly made of water, but also contains important substances that your body needs to digest food and keep your teeth healthy and strong. This clear fluid, that is usually taken for granted, has almost magical qualities when it comes to teeth.
Saliva is important because:
- It keeps your mouth moist and comfortable
- It helps you chew, taste, and swallow
- It fights germs in your mouth and prevents bad breath
- It has proteins and minerals that protect tooth enamel and prevent tooth decay and gum disease.
Below are some facts about saliva and how it helps prevent cavities.
A] What is Saliva?
Saliva is 98% of water. It contains tiny amounts of useful substances like mucus, proteins, minerals, electrolytes, antibacterial compounds and enzymes. Saliva moistens your mouth to create a comfortable environment, lubricates your food while chewing. It also prevents tooth decay, bad breath, gum diseases, and speeds up wound healing.
Saliva originates in three major pairs of salivary glands, and in hundreds of minor salivary glands that surround the oral cavity. The major salivary glands responsible for most of the saliva production are:
- Parotid glands: These are some of the largest glands. They are located over each cheek, over the jaw, and in front of the ears.
- Submandibular glands: These glands are situated at the back of the mouth on both sides of the jaw.
- Sublingual glands: These glands are located under the floor of the mouth.
These tiny salivary ducts carry saliva from the glands to your mouth. Small amounts of saliva are constantly entering your mouth to keep it moist. The salivary glands are triggered when you are eating food, or even when you are just thinking about it. An average person is known to produce 2-4 pints of saliva daily.
B] Why is Saliva Important for Dental Health?
Saliva protects your mouth from several gum diseases, tooth decay and various oral infection. As saliva moves across the mouth, it sweeps away all the small particles from between the teeth preventing tooth decay. Saliva also helps moisten the food while making it easy to swallow and enhances its taste. It also provides disease-fighting substances that prevent cavities.
Further Reading: Ways your dental health can affect you
What is Xerostomia (Dry Mouth)?
Some people may not be able to make enough saliva, resulting in a dry mouth. It could also happen due to certain illnesses and medicines that affect the production of saliva. This condition is known as Xerostomia.
A dry mouth causes gums, tissues and tongue to become swollen and uncomfortable. Germs tend to flourish in such an environment, and a mouth full of germs & bacteria can easily cause several mouth-related diseases.
A dry mouth makes you more vulnerable to tooth decay and gum diseases such as periodontitis. If you have a dry mouth, you may notice that swallowing and digesting food becomes difficult. Dry mouth is common in old people - the reason yet unclear. But poor nutrition, consumption of certain medications are believed to play a significant role in it.
- Causes of Xerostomia
- Certain diseases like HIV/AIDs, Sjogren’s syndrome and diabetes
- A blockage in one or more tubes affecting the saliva (saliva duct obstruction)
- Chemotherapy and radiation therapy
- A structural problem with the salivary glands
- Preventive measure/treatments for Xerostomia
- Drink plenty of water every day. Chewing sugar-free gum or sugar-free candy mints can help create more saliva.
- Maintaining good dental health is also necessary. Brushing and flossing every day helps keep the germs away. Ask the dentist to recommend a good fluoride toothpaste.
- Consult with a healthcare provider to determine if medications are causing dry mouth.
- Avoid foods that are salty, spicy and acidic as they can irritate and dry your mouth. Limit your caffeine and alcohol
- Choose food that is soft & smooth to eat. Try making foods that have broth or sauces.
D] When You Have Too Much Saliva
Too much saliva is normally not something to worry about. It is common for the body to make more or less saliva depending on what you are eating or drinking. Also, your body takes care of excess saliva by swallowing it.
Reasons you could make more saliva are:
- One salivary gland is more active than the other
- You have some problems swallowing your food
Your mouth prepares more saliva when you eat spicy foods as the taste buds located on your tongue play a huge part in creating saliva. While having something spicy or sour, your tongue reacts by telling your body to make more saliva. Acidic foods can also trigger more saliva. But if the excess saliva is causing discomfort, consult with a dentist or a healthcare provider as it could be a side-effect of medication or a medical condition. Also, chronic drooling is found in people who have poor muscle control in the face and mouth area.
Health Conditions That Can Cause Too Much Saliva
- Parkinsons’s disease
- Pregnancy(normally in women with extreme nausea and vomiting)
- Stroke or extreme fatigue
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- An enlarged tongue ( macroglossia)
- Cerebral Palsy
- Bell’s Palsy
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
Excess saliva can be treated through prescribed medication. Some common side-effects of these medications could be urinating, fast heartbeat, dizziness, blurred vision and sleepiness. In severe cases, surgery could be performed to remove the salivary gland or re-route the salivary duct.
E] How Can Saliva Prevent Cavities?
- Cleansing: Chewing helps with the digestion process, but it can leave small particles of debris stuck in between the This debris settles down and becomes a part of the dental plague, creating an ideal ground for disease-causing bacteria. Saliva helps get rid of such debris, preventing the teeth from cavities. It also helps rinse away sugary substances, which are a primary source of harmful bacteria.
- Protection: Saliva has antibodies such as Immunoglobulin - a protein-based antibody that acts as the primary source of protection. This helps in fighting disease-causing microorganisms. Saliva acts as the first line of defence against various bacteria and organisms. It consists of another protein - also found in our tears - known as lactoferrin. This protein prevents bacterial growth.
- Buffering: The major enemy of tooth enamel is mouth acid. This acid is produced from the bacteria and the food we consume. Saliva helps neutralise the acids, maintaining a healthy pH level. It can help buffer the acid and restore the balance within an hour or thirty minutes of eating.
- Re-mineralisation: It is quite common for the acid to build up in your mouth after eating, leaching minerals from the tooth enamel. This process is known as de-mineralisation, wherein the tooth becomes softer and weaker. In this state, the saliva helps restore the lost minerals while neutralising the acid. This re- mineralisation strengthens the enamel preventing tooth decay or cavities.
#Quantity and Quality of Saliva
There are two factors to consider about saliva, in defence against dental cavities.
- Are your glands producing adequate quantity of saliva?
- Does it have adequate buffering capacity?
Having a salivary test at the dentist is an important part of your oral examination. Saliva-Check BUFFER is an examination tool that is used to educate patients, assist in preventive treatment planning and helps initiate changes in the patient’s oral hygiene. This product plays a significant role in maintaining oral health.
It identifies, measures and assesses the patient’s saliva condition, which helps determine the body’s possible risk of caries. It is also helpful for testing hydration, salivary consistency, resting pH, stimulated saliva flow, stimulated pH and saliva buffering capacity.
GET YOUR SALIVA TESTED TODAY AT ORIS DENTAL