Saliva’s Role in Oral Health

salivaWhen you think about oral health, you probably think about your gums and your teeth. After all, Americans spend about $1.8 billion on toothpaste and $775 million on toothbrushes. We’re serious about our oral hygiene habits! (And it appears we put our money where our mouths are, too!)

So, when you consider your dental wellbeing, do you think about … saliva? Most people don’t think about the role saliva plays into dental care, and how important it is for maintaining excellent oral health. It’s true! Saliva is a necessary component in preventing cavities. It clears away bacteria that cling to your gums and enamel and cause disease and infection.

Saliva is produced by … wait for it … your salivary glands, and it’s made up of 99.5% water. Big surprise, right?  So, what’s the other .5%? Believe it or not, that teeny tiny part of saliva is comprise of several components, including electrolytes, mucus, glycoproteins, enzymes, and antibacterial compounds. Now, you know why saliva is the first step in the digestion process! It helps lubricate your food, making it easier to chew and swallow. Saliva also enhances your taste, not to mention your motor functions, which helps you to talk.

From a dental perspective, saliva helps break down the food particles that lodge in and around your teeth, and protects your enamel from bacterial decay. In addition, saliva actually remineralizes your teeth, using calcium and phosphates. If you stimulate your salivary glands by chewing sugar-free gum (or just eating anything, really), then the saliva produced actually has more of the good stuff in it—and is more effective in buffering that bacteria and keeps those pearly whites mineralized.

So, what happens if there’s a reduction in your saliva production? The less saliva you produce, the higher the risk of decay. It also makes eating and talking more difficult. Some medications and conditions such as Sjogren’s syndrome can cause saliva deficiencies, which can negatively impact your oral health. The reduction of saliva is called xerostomia—or dry mouth. Dry mouth also occurs as the result of aging or changes in hormones.

If you’re suffering from dry mouth, make an appointment with your dentist. Your dentist can diagnose the problem and get you treated. Remember, saliva is a very important part of your oral health!