What is Saliva?
Saliva is a clear liquid that is produced by several salivary glands in the mouth. The parotid, submandibular and sublingual glands are the main producers of saliva and determine salivary flow. While the mouth can produce up to 500 ml of saliva a day, the average amount found in the mouth at any one time is about 1 ml.
Benefits of Saliva
While saliva is mostly comprised of water, it also contains other essential elements that play a role in digestion and keeping teeth strong. Some of its functions include:
- Keeping your mouth comfortable and moist
- Helping you taste, swallow and chew food
- Fighting and washing away bacteria in the mouth
- Flushing away bacteria to help prevent bad breath
- Protective effect on enamel and gums due to minerals and proteins in the saliva
- Lubrication, buffering and remineralization of teeth.
How Is It Produced
Saliva production is stimulated while food is being chewed. The harder and more frequently that you chew, the more that is produced. Chewing gum and sucking on candies or cough drops also helps you to produce it as well.
Reduced Salivary Flow and Cavities
Reduced salivary flow can occur for a temporary period of time or for a long period of time. Causes of reduced flow are due to aging, salivary gland issues, certain diseases, side effects of certain medications, etc. A severe lack of salivary flow which results in a constantly dry mouth is called xerostomia.
Reduced salivary flow in the mouth is one factor among many that affect our risk of developing dental decay. When foods are eaten, especially foods that are sweet and have a sticky consistency, they provide an easy source of food for bad bacteria in the mouth. When saliva flow is normal, the saliva flushes away leftover food debris in the mouth which lowers the risk of dental decay. Saliva also helps to remineralize the enamel to protect it from acid wear. Acid wear thins the tooth’s enamel and allows dental decay to progress much faster into the tooth structure.
If you notice that your mouth is dry most of the time, you should talk to your dentist and doctor to determine a solution. If the cause is due to medication, your doctor may be able to adjust the dosage or recommend another type of medication. There are also over-the-counter products that can help with lubricating the mouth when there is inadequate saliva flow.