Saliva helps to make everyday functions easy from helping you experience a tasty dish to letting speak more clearly. But saliva also plays a pivotal role in good oral health. Learn more about what components makeup saliva and how it helps your body and oral health.
1. Saliva - What is it?
Is the clear fluid found inside your mouth? It is made up of several important chemical and physical components, but 99% of your saliva is water. A healthy person can produce up to 2 litres of saliva every day.
Saliva is an essential part of your digestive system and facilitates digestion by helping lubricate your digestive tract, chemically pre-digest your food, and allows for better mechanical digestion by your teeth.
Furthermore, it performs other secondary functions including preventing infection, speaking and washing away debris and build-up from your teeth and gums. It also neutralises acid, contains essential minerals for remineralising teeth and creates protective biofilms over teeth to prevent decay.
2. From Where Does It Come From?
Saliva comes from your salivary glands which are located on the inside of your mouth, cheeks, under your tongue and even near your vocal cords. There are three main sets of glands that produce the bulk of your saliva and smaller glands which retain and release small amounts.
The three main glands are called the parotid, sublingual and submandibular glands and produce and transport saliva around your mouth using a system of ducts.
The production of saliva is a complex process that involves the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, hormones, and salivary glands. It is produced in the presence of food but can also be triggered through psychological association.
3. What is it made of?
While saliva is composed mainly of water, there are several other important substances contained in saliva that perform essential functions in your body.
The second-largest component of saliva after water is proteins. In addition to inhibiting bacterial growth in your mouth, proteins are responsible for helping you taste the food you eat.
To taste and digest food it needs to be solubilised. This means that the food molecules need to be dissolved and dispersed before they can be tasted. Saliva proteins play an important role in solubilising food molecules by interacting with the taste receptors in your mouth.
Enzymes are specific types of proteins that are responsible for catalysing chemical reactions. The enzymes in saliva including amylase and lipase perform the important function of breaking down fats and starches in your food into their smaller components so they can be easily absorbed by your body.
Another enzyme is lysozyme which helps prevent the growth of certain bacterial colonies to maintain the balance of your mouth’s microbiome.
Mucin is the protein that contributes to the build-up of mucus when we have a cold, but it also plays an important role in speech and digestion. Mucin is what causes saliva to have a slippery texture and allows us to speak more easily and swallow food safely.
Electrolytes are essential minerals in your body that regulate the flow of water in and out of cells and assist with nerve function, but in your mouth electrolytes function to protect and strengthen enamel by replacing minerals that are lost for the protective outer layer of your teeth. This continual process of remineralisation helps to prevent acid wear and tooth decay.
Some of the electrolytes present in your saliva include calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium, which need to be replenished through your diet.
4. Benefits of Saliva in Oral Health
While each component of saliva plays an important role, the combination of all these elements offers significant benefits for your oral health. Some of the benefits include:
- Protection against tooth decay
- Creation of barrier biofilms on teeth and gums
- Easy swallowing and creation of food bolus
- Food molecules transport to taste receptors
- Strengthen teeth through remineralisation
- Helps to heal mouth wounds such as canker sores as it contains epidermal and endothelial growth factors
- Maintains a neutral oral pH
In addition to these benefits, your saliva production can be a good indicator of your overall general health. It can be used to diagnose health issues, including oral cancers, HIV and many genetic conditions.
Certain medications such as those for asthma and heart disease and some health conditions can cause reduced saliva production including diabetes, thrush, and Alzheimer’s disease. If you are experiencing dry mouth due to the presence of one of these conditions or in the event of an emergency, speak with your Saturday dentist in Farnham about remedies to increase saliva production.
5. Final Thoughts
Saliva is an integral part of maintaining good oral hygiene, facilitating digestion and helping you speak. Dry mouth or reduced saliva production can cause a number of serious adverse health problems from gum disease to tooth decay and should be treated by a healthcare professional.
If you believe that you suffer from low saliva output, or experience any unusual symptoms regarding your saliva, call your dentist immediately for a consultation and check-up.
Dr Taher Rashid is an award-nominated restorative and cosmetic dentist at Time Dental Practice in Farnham. He is a certified Facial Wrinkle Clinician, 6-month smiles, Clear smile braces, Inman aligner and Invisalign provider which are the latest treatments for straightening teeth with invisible braces for adults.
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