Think spit is just spat? Think again. Saliva is vital in helping prevent gum disease and in keeping your digestive system running smoothly. It cleanses the mouth, protects your teeth, and helps keep your gums healthy.
Composition and Production:
Your body is continuously producing a steady stream of saliva. But what is it, and why do our mouths produce more at different times?
Saliva is 99% water. The other 1% of saliva is proteins and electrolytes. However, even though they only make up 1% of saliva, these proteins and electrolytes perform powerful functions in your mouth.
Saliva production is controlled by the autonomic nervous system. This system also controls your breathing, heart rate, digestion, body temperature, sexual response, and metabolism, as well as sweat and tears production. As far as saliva production is concerned, there are three main glands primarily responsible: the submandibular, parotid, and sublingual glands.
Your autonomic nervous system communicates with the various parts of itself. For instance, if you smell an incredibly wonderful food, taste food, are stimulated by medication, or simply perform a chewing motion, your autonomic system amps up the production of saliva.
Key Functions of Saliva:
Saliva performs a few primary functions that make life–and especially eating and digestion–operate more smoothly than they would otherwise.
First, saliva facilitates speaking and eating. It lubricates oral tissues so your tongue, teeth, and roof of your mouth can work together smoothly to create sounds. It aids in the process of eating by enhancing the taste of food, helping you break down food in your mouth, and facilitating chewing.
Without saliva, swallowing and clearing or rinsing food from the side of your mouth would be far more difficult. The enzymes in the protein in saliva help break down food and prepare it for digestion. In short, saliva helps you throughout every phase of the eating process.
Saliva also helps protect your mouth and surrounding tissues. It dilutes the sugars in food and drinks, neutralizes acids to prevent plaque production, and remineralize your teeth enamel. All these functions help to prevent plaque and tartar damage.
Additionally, saliva has cleansing and antimicrobial properties, continually working to help keep you healthy and free of disease. Lastly, it also helps to repair tissue in instances of mouth injuries or cuts.
How Saliva Benefits Your Teeth:
With all of this in mind, here are five of the main ways saliva benefits your teeth.
- Saliva acts as a rinsing and cleansing agent for teeth, helping your mouth wipe away food debris, yeast, fungi, bacteria, and viruses. As such, it helps to prevent a variety of medical and dental issues.
- Saliva shields the esophagus and digestive tract from harmful irritants, as well as shielding your teeth from the sugars and acids in many of our foods and beverages. Its enzymes help neutralize acids that would otherwise damage your teeth and gums.
Tooth decay prevention
- Not only does saliva neutralize acids that would otherwise contribute to tooth decay, but it also literally washes those sugars and acids away from the teeth. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t brush your teeth–it means that your saliva is working hard and deserves all the help you give it so that you can avoid restorative and cosmetic dentistry procedures.
- Additionally, saliva remineralizes the enamel on your teeth. After you eat, the enamel on your teeth takes a beating from sugars and acids. Afterward, however, calcium and phosphate ions in saliva remineralize your enamel.
- This is why it’s essential to brush your teeth after eating, and especially before you go to sleep: it clears any debris out of the way so your saliva can repair your tooth enamel without impediment.
- While too much plaque is bad, plaque in and of itself serves an important function. Saliva coats the tooth with one of its proteins, pellicle, which then accumulates to form plaque. This plaque attracts bacteria and other agents, forcing them to form clumps which are then more easily swallowed or brushed away.
- Saliva is packed with proteins, electrolytes, endothelial and epidermal growth factors, making it a live-in medicine for your mouth. If the inside of your mouth sustains a wound–a cut, a canker sore, or if you bite your lip–then saliva helps to facilitate the healing process.
With all these healing and protective properties, saliva is a huge player in preventing tooth decay and any resulting gum disease.
Saliva’s the unsung hero of your dental and digestive health, working to prevent gum disease and tooth decay at every step. As an intelligent servant of the autonomic nervous system, it’s your mouth’s way of protecting itself and facilitating healing. Practice good oral hygiene so you can help your saliva do its job.
About the Author: Written by Bryan, from York House Dentists in Chesham & Amersham, the practice maintains and improves smiles for nearly 30 years with a comforting combination of expertise, experience and exceptional standards. For more details feel free to visit www.yorkhousedentists.co.uk.