Did you know that one commonly overlooked factor in dental health is your saliva? Saliva plays a vital role at the beginning of your food digestion, but it also plays many roles in your mouth’s health. Surveys show that many of us rarely think about saliva unless we find ourselves with a dry mouth. When saliva flow slows down, you may feel things are different in your mouth. As your dentist, there are some things that we also notice differences in healthy mouths versus dry mouths.
What Does Saliva Do For Your Mouth?
Saliva is an integral part of a healthy mouth because it keeps your mouth moist and comfortable. Saliva helps you chew your food, taste its flavor, and swallow it. Saliva can help to prevent bad breath (halitosis) by fighting germs living in your mouth. Saliva contains minerals that help prevent tooth decay.
Where Does Saliva Come From?
Your saliva is made mostly of water, but it also contains important substances that your body uses to digest food and minerals that your teeth absorb for strength. Saliva is excreted through the salivary glands located in the cheek and the floor of your mouth. Most people have six major salivary glands and hundreds of minor ones.
Why Does My Mouth Feel Dry?
The average healthy body makes up to four pints of saliva a day. Most is made in the afternoon and the least amount at night. There can be quite a range though what’s considered normal for saliva because our bodies are all unique.
If your body doesn’t make enough saliva, your mouth will likely feel dry. We often relate to dry mouth as feeling like you have cotton in your mouth. The technical term used for dry mouth is xerostomia. Certain diseases and medicines can affect how much saliva is being produced in your mouth. Most depression and anxiety medication cause xerostomia as well as chemotherapy, radiation, and smoking cigarettes.
How Can I Improve My Saliva And Dental Health?
Since saliva has a crucial role in keeping your gum, tongue, and teeth healthy, it is essential to have adequate saliva. There are many healthy habits that you can adopt to help boost your saliva and keep your mouth as healthy as possible:
- Drink lots of water – increasing your water intake can also increase salivary output since saliva is mostly made of water.
- Chew sugar-free gum – repetitive chewing helps to increase salivary flow.
- Suck on sugar-free candy – again, this can help to increase salivary flow but make sure to stick with sugar-free as sugar-filled sweets increase one’s risk of getting cavities.
- Review your medications – if you find your medicines seem to be causing dry mouth, you could discuss options with your doctor.
- Routine dental cleanings – regular cleanings and exams are essential for maintaining a healthy mouth and for diagnosing any problems early.
There are several over-the-counter saliva substitutes available for those with dry mouth. They can be beneficial by helping to keep your mouth moist and comfortable. However, they will not provide proteins, minerals, and other substitutes found in real saliva.
Can Saliva Be Used As A Health Indicator?
Another interesting thing is that saliva is continuously being studied in more and more depth. Some researchers have shown significant diagnosis results from saliva regarding breast cancer, oral cancers, viral hepatitis, and even gum disease. While more development still needs to be done in this research area, you will most likely be seeing more information on saliva as a health indicator shortly.