What is the purpose of saliva?
You know that it’s important to keep your mouth from drying out and that sometimes your mouth produces a lot of it when you see or smell something delicious.
But what is saliva?
It may be 99% water, but it packs a serious punch when it comes to keeping your teeth healthy. Mixed in with the water are helpful minerals like calcium, phosphorus, and fluoride. This powerful combination works overtime to keep your teeth looking and performing their best.
It is created in three pairs of major salivary glands (located in your cheeks, under your tongue, and close to your jawbone) and in hundreds of minor glands around your oral cavity (this is made up of your lips, the lining of your cheeks and lips, the front two thirds of your tongue, under your tongue, the roof of your mouth, and behind the area where your wisdom teeth are).
The saliva is carried from your salivary glands to your mouth through small tubes called salivary ducts. Small amounts are regularly streamed into your mouth to keep it comfortable. But your salivary glands work overtime when you eat or even think about or smell food.
You produce one to two litres of saliva every day. Over the course of a year, you could fill two standard sized bathtubs.
How does saliva protect my teeth?
The acid from the food you eat damages your enamel, but saliva comes to the rescue by washing away that harmful acidic residue and even repairing your enamel in a process called remineralization.
When you eat, your body immediately begins the digestion process. Once you put food in your mouth, your body will produce saliva which contains an enzyme called amylase that breaks down starch and sugars into even smaller pieces. It also makes food easier to swallow by making it wet and soft to help you avoid choking.
It contains small amounts of mucus, proteins, electrolytes, antibacterial compounds, and enzymes. This all-star roster works hard to lubricate your mouth as you chew and swallow and offset harmful acids.
But that’s not all.
It also eliminates germs that cause bad breath, protects you from tooth decay and gum disease, and speeds up the healing process of any wounds in your mouth.
What happens if I don’t produce enough saliva?
If your body isn’t producing enough saliva, you may have something called xerostomia, or dry mouth.
This allows problems like gum disease and tooth decay to run rampant and it leaves your mouth vulnerable to infections from bacteria, yeast, and fungus. To make things worse, it also makes it harder for you to swallow and digest food, and it makes bad breath an even bigger problem.
Conditions like Sjögren’s syndrome and diabetes can cause xerostomia, as can cancer treatments and other medications. Things you may be doing every day, like not drinking enough water, smoking, and breathing through your mouth may also cause your mouth to feel dry and your tongue and gums to be swollen.
If you’re not producing enough saliva, you may require a visit with your dentist. Dr. Andrea Stevens is a Kanata-based dentist with over 20 years of experience helping people like you look and feel their best.