Not many of you know, but saliva is probably the most important and most neglected factor in your oral health. Proper amounts of saliva are crucial for good oral health, less cavities and good digestion.
Let’s see what are the main roles and benefits of saliva and what should you do if you produce too much or too little.
What is actually saliva?
Saliva, or how some like to call it “spit” is actually extracellular fluid produced by the salivary glands on your mouth. Saliva is actually the first line of digestion since it carries important enzymes for breaking down food particles. Aside from this, it also delivers important minerals and vitamins to your teeth for the remineralization process. In general, saliva is made of:
- Water (approx. 95%)
- Electrolytes like sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and phosphates
- Proteins and
- Other substances, minerals and compounds
When you have healthy saliva, its pH is slightly acidic (from 6-7 pH) which helps it break down food and also protects your mouth from bacteria buildup.
What are the main functions of saliva?
Probably one of the most important roles your saliva plays is cleaning the food debris from your mouth. If you have enough saliva, it will wash out food bits from between your teeth and other parts of your oral cavity.
Some taste molecules first need to be made more soluble (dissolvable) before you can taste them. This is where saliva steps in. It will dissolve some of the taste molecules and react with your taste buds so you can tell the difference between different tastes.
You begin digesting your food with chewing and swallowing but that would be useless without saliva. While chewing, the saliva binds the food bits together into a slippery substance which can then easily slide down your esophagus. Amylase, one of the enzymes found in your saliva, breaks down food into simpler compounds which can then be digested in your stomach and intestines.
Without saliva and its compounds, the food that you eat and chew would be too dry and it could hurt the highly sensitive tissue in your esophagus.
Oral microbe support
You can find all sorts of microbes in your mouth, both good and bad. Saliva has the key role in maintaining a good balance between these microbes.
Macromolecule proteins in your saliva can aggregate and destroy certain types of bacteria in your mouth before they could attach inside your mouth and start spreading. This prevents (or minimizes) the risk of cavities.
Furthermore, saliva also creates a barrier between the harmful microbes (bacteria) and your mouth. This is one of the vital functions of your saliva. By constantly lubricating your tongue, gums, cheeks and floor of your mouth, it prevents irritation done by these microbes. And not only this. Saliva and its lubrication ability, also protect your mouth from:
- Enzymes in plaque (as you know, this can damage your teeth’s enamel)
- Carcinogen substances from cigarettes and
- Dry mouth
Saliva not only protects your oral cavity from harmful bacteria and washes away any food bits, but it also protects your teeth from harmful acids that can eat away your tooth enamel. This function is thanks to:
- Histidine-rich peptides
- Other enzymes and proteins
Keeping your teeth stronger
One part of defending your teeth is neutralizing the harmful bacteria and acids that they produce. The other part of teeth protection is remineralization.
Throughout the day, your teeth are constantly being demineralized and remineralized. If you have good saliva flow, your teeth will receive a good amount of minerals which will keep them healthy and strong.
Identifying health issues
Based on the proteins and DNA found in your saliva, it is possible to identify risks to some diseases or if a disease is present. Saliva can help diagnose or predict:
- Oral cancer
- Viruses, including HIV
- Fertility issues
- Chronic stress
- Sleep disruptions
- Calcium absorption problems etc.
As you can see, saliva plays a really important role not only for your teeth and oral health, but also your overall health. So make sure you keep it healthy. In our next post, we will be focusing on saliva production and how to maintain a healthy saliva.