Importance of Saliva for Oral Health

Importance of Saliva for Oral Health

Feb 1, 2018

Your saliva might be the last thing you may be concerned about in your busy schedule. For some, saliva may look gross but there are immense benefits that this liquid offers to our mouth. Saliva is a liquid that is formed by the salivary glands of our body. It is predominantly water and has a combination of mucous, enzymes, minerals, and proteins. 

It holds the key to a wealth of fascinating scientific discoveries and incredible health benefits. From aiding in digestion to providing protection against tooth decay, saliva plays a crucial role in maintaining our overall well being.

Composition of Saliva

Saliva is a complex fluid composed of water, electrolytes, enzymes, mucus, and other substances that are secreted by the salivary glands. These glands, located in and around the mouth, produce saliva and release it into the oral cavity through ducts. The composition of saliva can vary depending on factors such as hydration status, diet, and overall health.

Water is the primary component of saliva, making up about 99% of its volume. This watery base provides lubrication for our mouths, allowing us to speak, chew, and swallow comfortably. Saliva also contains electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, calcium, and bicarbonate, which help maintain the pH balance in our mouths and aid in the process of digestion.

Enzymes found in saliva play a crucial role in breaking down food particles and initiating the digestion process. Amylase, for example, helps break down starches into simpler sugars, while lipase assists in the digestion of fats. These enzymes start the process of chemical digestion in the mouth, preparing food for further breakdown in the stomach and intestines.

Silvia also contains mucus, which helps lubricate the oral cavity and facilitates the movement of food during chewing and swallowing. Mucus also acts as a protective barrier, coating the surfaces of our mouths and protecting them from potential damage or irritation.

Understanding the composition of saliva is essential in comprehending its various functions and health benefits. Now, let’s explore how saliva aids digestion.

Salvia in Oral Health

Salvia acts as a natural defense mechanism, protecting our teeth and gums against harmful bacteria and maintaining the overall health of our oral cavity.

  • Remineralisation 
    Our teeth are constantly subjected to a process called demineralization, where the enamel is weakened and minerals such as calcium and phosphate are lost due to the acids produced by bacteria in our mouths. Saliva helps counteract this process by supplying minerals to the teeth, promoting remineralisation, and strengthening the enamel.
  • Removal of food debris and plaque
    The mechanical action of chewing, combined with the lubricating properties of saliva, helps dislodge particles that may be stuck between our teeth or along the gum line.
  • Antimicrobial
    Component that can help kill or inhibit the growth of bacteria, further reducing the risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
  • Protect Gums
    Saliva acts like a protective layer for our gums. Hence, it can be called as the first line of defence for the gums. It keeps the gums hydrated and moist. This is important for the gums to be in a healthy state.
  • Acid neutraliser
    Consumption of acidic foods or beverages compromises the integrity of our mouth due to the reduction in the pH level. Saliva helps in preventing this from happening. It neutralizes the effect of acid through the utilization of bicarbonate ions present within the saliva.
  • Helps in speech
    You may not realise it until you have a dry mouth (a condition when the quantity of saliva is low). Saliva is extremely necessary for speech as it helps our tongue and oral tissues to carry out movements that are required for speech or chewing action.

Saliva plays a role in maintaining the overall health of our gums. It contains substances that help control inflammation and promote wound healing, which are essential for keeping our gums healthy and preventing periodontal diseases.

However, it is important to note that certain factors can affect saliva production and composition, potentially compromising its protective properties.

Factors that Affect Saliva Production

Saliva production can be influenced by several factors, resulting in changes in both quantity and quality. Some common factors include:

  • Hydration
    Dehydration can lead to reduced saliva production, resulting in a dry mouth. It is important to stay adequately hydrated to ensure optimal saliva production and maintain oral health.
  • Medications
    Certain medications, such as antihistamines, antidepressants, and diuretics, can have side effects that reduce saliva production. This can contribute to conditions like dry mouth, which can increase the risk of dental problems.
  • Age
    Saliva production tends to decrease as we age. This can be attributed to age-related changes in the salivary glands, hormonal changes, and the use of medications commonly prescribed to older adults.
  • Medical conditions
    Certain medical conditions, such as Sjogren’s syndrome, diabetes, and autoimmune disorders, can affect saliva production. In these cases, saliva may be reduced in quantity or may have an altered composition, which can impact oral health.
  • Lifestyle factors
    Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can also affect saliva production. These habits can lead to dry mouth and increase the risk of oral health issues.

Tips for Maintaining Healthy Saliva Production

Maintaining healthy saliva production is crucial for optimal oral health and overall well-being. Here are some tips to help promote healthy saliva production:

  • Stay hydrated
    Drink plenty of water throughout the day to ensure adequate hydration. Dehydration can lead to reduced saliva production and dry mouth.
  • Avoid alcohol and tobacco
    Both alcohol and tobacco can contribute to dry mouth and reduce saliva production. Limiting or avoiding their use can help maintain optimal saliva production and oral health.
  • Practice good oral hygiene
    Brush your teeth twice a day, floss regularly, and visit your dentist for regular check-ups and cleanings. Good oral hygiene helps maintain optimal oral health and supports saliva production.
  • Chew sugar free gum
    Chewing sugar-free gum stimulates saliva production, helping to maintain a moist mouth and protect against tooth decay.
  • Limit caffeine intake
    Caffeine can contribute to dehydration, which can reduce saliva production. Limit your intake of caffeinated beverages and opt for water or herbal teas instead.
  • Manage stress
    Stress can affect saliva production. Engage in stress-reducing activities such as exercise, meditation, or hobbies to promote optimal saliva production and overall well being.
  • Stay mindful of medications
    If you are taking medications that may reduce saliva production, discuss with your healthcare provider if there are alternatives available or strategies to manage dry mouth.

By incorporating these tips into your daily routine, you can help maintain healthy saliva production and support optimal oral health.

Saliva and Taste

Saliva plays a key role in our ability to taste and enjoy food. It helps dissolve food particles and carries them to the taste buds on our tongues, allowing us to perceive assorted flavors.

When we eat, saliva mixes with the food in our mouths, creating a solution that carries molecules responsible for taste. These molecules dissolve in saliva and come into contact with taste receptors on our taste buds, triggering signals that are sent to the brain. This process allows us to distinguish between the five primary tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami.

Saliva helps cleanse our taste buds, enabling us to fully experience the flavors of different foods. It washes away any lingering flavors, allowing us to taste each bite without interference. This is why it is common to cleanse the palate with water or a mild beverage before tasting something new, as it helps reset our taste buds and allows us to fully appreciate the flavors.

The amount and composition of saliva can also influence taste perception. For example, a dry mouth can lead to a diminished ability to taste, as the lack of saliva can prevent food molecules from properly dissolving and reaching the taste receptors. Additionally, certain medications or medical conditions that affect saliva production can alter taste perception, leading to a metallic or bitter taste sensation.

Understanding the role of saliva in taste perception not only enhances our culinary experiences but also highlights the importance of maintaining optimal saliva production and oral health. Now, let’s delve into the surprising ways that saliva can act as a diagnostic tool for various health conditions.

Saliva as a Diagnostic Tool

Saliva has long been recognised as a potential source of valuable diagnostic information. Its non-invasive nature, ease of collection, and the presence of various biomarkers make it an attractive option for disease detection and monitoring.

Researchers have been exploring the use of saliva as a diagnostic tool for conditions such as oral diseases, systemic diseases, and even certain types of cancer. Saliva contains a wide range of biomarkers, including proteins, enzymes, hormones, DNA, and RNA, which can provide valuable insights into the presence or progression of diseases.

In the field of dentistry, saliva has been used for the detection of oral diseases such as periodontal disease and dental caries. By analysing specific biomarkers present in saliva, dentists can identify early signs of these conditions, allowing for prompt intervention and treatment.

Saliva has also shown promise in the diagnosis of systemic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and autoimmune disorders. Certain biomarkers present in saliva can reflect the systemic condition of an individual, providing valuable information for disease management and monitoring.

Saliva-based tests have been explored for the detection of certain types of cancer, including oral, breast, and pancreatic cancer. The presence of specific biomarkers in saliva can indicate the presence of cancerous cells or genetic mutations associated with these types of cancer, potentially enabling early detection and improved treatment outcomes.

While saliva based diagnostic tests are still being developed and refined, the potential of saliva as a non-invasive and easily accessible diagnostic tool is promising. Further research and advancements in this field could revolutionise disease detection and monitoring, leading to improved outcomes for patients worldwide.

Now that we have explored the various functions and diagnostic potential of saliva, let’s delve into the remarkable health benefits it provides.

Final Thoughts

Saliva, the often overlooked bodily fluid, is a remarkable substance with a range of incredible functions and health benefits. From aiding in digestion to protecting our teeth and gums, saliva plays an indispensable role in maintaining our overall well-being.

Saliva is a lifejacket that protects us from numerous oral problems. Hence, you should ensure that your saliva remains in adequate quantity and quality. The best way to do it is by having a balanced diet and by drinking plenty of water.