THE MAGIC POWERS OF SALIVA
Dr. Lara Coseo DDS, FAGD – Author – 2004 graduate of Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas, Texas. Having practiced general dentistry for 13 years, Dr. Lara currently serves as an Associate Professor at Texas A&M College of Dentistry.
The Essential Functions of Saliva
Saliva is much more than just water. In this article, we will explain the many important roles saliva plays in a healthy mouth.
Saliva also assists our immune systems by protecting us from having exaggerated responses to the proteins found in our food. Some of these proteins are antigens to which the immune system would naturally react, but they are actually harmless. In order to stop an unnecessary inflammatory reaction that could damage our mouths, the salivary glands produce cells that tightly regulate and suppress the immune system.
The antibacterial activity of saliva is noticed most obviously when it is absent. Patients who suffer from a lack of saliva and a dry mouth tend to have large accumulations of dental plaque and a higher prevalence of the gum disease and cavities these bacteria cause.
One of the ways saliva fights tooth decay is through a buffering of the pH inside the mouth. When we chew food, the body produces more saliva to naturally counteract the acid being made by the bacteria. Saliva is neutral or just a bit alkaline in pH. This ability to neutralize acids is a valuable weapon in the fight against cavities.
Studies on patients without adequate salivary flow show that the pH in their mouths stays at an acidic level far longer than in a mouth with good salivary production. A lingering acidic pH weakens the teeth and increases the risk for cavities.
This is both protective and functional. The lubrication of the soft tissues prevents frequent injuries from the movement of the teeth. Patients with dry mouth commonly bite their lips, cheeks, and tongues. The friction between teeth and soft tissues in a dry mouth also result in painful mouth sores and ulcers.
Good lubrication is also necessary for proper speech and eating. In order to form normal sounds when speaking, you must be able to freely move your lips and tongue without sticking.
The amount of saliva your mouth produces in a single day
Without saliva, your ability to taste is depressed. Unfortunately, many people compensate by eating diets that are high in salt or sugar. Increasing your salt and sugar intake actually dehydrates you even more, so this can become a vicious cycle!
On a microscopic scale, saliva contains enzymes that break down the molecules in food to present your stomach and intestines with particles that are easier to digest. This improves your body’s ability to absorb nutrients from the gastrointestinal tract and keeps you healthy!
The good news is that demineralization is reversible! We have the ability to remineralize enamel, and our saliva is the most important tool in our arsenal.
Saliva aids in remineralization by neutralizing the acid produced by bacteria (discussed earlier in the Buffering section) and by bringing essential minerals to the tooth for reincorporation. When you drink fluoridated water, your saliva is the carrier of that fluoride to the tooth’s surface. During remineralization, the enamel surface takes up fluoride, calcium and phosphate minerals from the saliva to re-harden and strengthen the tooth.
- Keep yourself well hydrated. Drinking plenty of water encourages a health supply of saliva.
- Chew xylitol gum to increase saliva flow rate.
- Snack on healthy foods like vegetables, cheese and nuts.
Dr. Lara Coseo, (DDS, FAGD) is a 2004 graduate of Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas, Texas. Having practiced general dentistry for 13 years, Dr. Lara currently serves as an Associate Professor at Texas A&M College of Dentistry.
→ Clinical Implications of Recent Advances in Salivary Research – This article explores salivary research in an attempt to better understand cosmetic restoration failure.
→ The composition, function, and role of saliva in maintaining oral health:
A review of the components of saliva and their relationship to oral health.