What Are the Benefits of Saliva?
What’s the Significance of Saliva?
Your salivary glands are responsible for producing saliva that acts like a buffer to keep invading enemies away from your mouth. Certain actions can trigger saliva production, especially when you chew. Your brain may signal your salivary glands to release further saliva when you eat foods of a certain consistency or flavor. Some foods, however, can actually block saliva flow, including breads, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates. That’s why saliva contains a special enzyme called amylase that breaks down the sugars in carbohydrates so you won’t experience significant dry mouth when you enjoy a sandwich.
Here are some of the best benefits of saliva:
Saliva Keeps Your Teeth Strong
Your saliva consists of more than water. Saliva also contains several different protein types, such as proline, statherin and histatins, according to the Journal of Dentistry. These proteins are responsible for helping to build calcium phosphate in your teeth. Think of calcium phosphate like the spackle that can help to fill in any holes in your tooth enamel. The increase in enamel strength is why adults tend to have fewer cavities than children and adolescents. The longer your saliva can work to strengthen your teeth, the stronger the enamel that rests on the outside of your teeth can become.
Saliva Acts as a Buffer
Your body relies on a series of buffer systems to keep you well, and your saliva maintains a certain pH to keep your mouth from becoming acidic, which could increase the number of cavities you experience. Your saliva acts as a buffer system by keeping your mouth alkaline or a pH higher than 7.0. If your body does not produce enough saliva, your buffer system can’t work as effectively, and your mouth may become an acidic environment. Because acid works to eat away at your protective tooth enamel, you may find yourself experiencing more cavities.
As a small bit of trivia, the saliva your body produces when you chew sugar-free gum has a higher concentration of bicarbonate, which is helpful in creating the buffer type you need to keep your teeth cavity-free.
Saliva Fights Off Infections
In addition to enamel-protecting proteins, saliva has antibodies, which are immune system compounds that help to fight against bacteria in your mouth, including plaque bacteria that can cause cavities. These infection-fighting compounds also are the reason why your mouth is less likely to become infected if you happen to experience a cut inside your mouth. While an estimated 700 different bacteria types live inside your mouth, the antibodies present in your saliva can help to fend off the bacteria types that could be potentially harmful to your mouth. To give you an idea of just how strong the antibodies in your saliva are, they can dismantle the HIV virus if you were exposed to it in your mouth.
The ABCs of Xerostomia
While it may sound like a mouthful, xerostomia actually is the opposite because it stands for having a dry mouth. This condition can cause you to experience uncomfortable symptoms, such as:
- sore or burning sensation in your throat
- trouble speaking or hoarseness
- trouble swallowing
- dry nasal passages
Sometimes your salivary glands may simply not produce enough saliva while other times you can have xerostomia by taking certain medications. This includes antihistamines, muscle relaxants, painkillers, antidepressants and Parkinson’s disease medications. If you suspect your medication is causing dry mouth, talk to your physician or dentist about ways you can combat the saliva loss, including chewing on sugar-free candy or gum or using a prescription treatment to restore saliva.
“Dry mouth is becoming an increasingly large problem, especially as our population ages,” says Mark Sayeg, DDS, FAGD, a dentist practicing in Sandy Springs, Ga. “A couple of simple steps we take with patients with dry mouth is for the patient to use alcohol-free mouthwashes, such as Listerine Zero. Biotine also has mouth rinses to help with the problems associated with dry mouth.”