What Saliva Does
When people think about their oral health, they often focus primarily on their teeth and maybe their gums. However, many people don’t consider saliva. Saliva, or spit, is the clear, lubricating fluid inside the mouth composed of water, bacteria, viruses, enzymes, blood cells, mucus, and undigested food particles. There are three main locations where the saliva is produced: inside each cheek, under the tongue, and near the front teeth.
The human body produces around 2-4 pints of saliva daily, with the majority being produced in the late afternoon. With so much saliva production, it must be important for something, right? In fact saliva has many important functions that help maintain both your oral and overall health. Here are some of the things that saliva does:
Protects the Teeth
One of the main functions of saliva is to protect your teeth from decay-causing bacteria. Saliva protects your teeth in a number of ways. For starters, saliva helps to form a protective barrier around your teeth. Since saliva contains bicarbonate, it can act as a buffer to neutralize the harsh acids produced by bacteria. This helps to prevent enamel damage. Furthermore, saliva also contains calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium, which collectively help to strengthen the enamel and make it more resistant to decay.
Prevents Gum Disease
In addition to protecting the tooth enamel from decay, saliva also helps to prevent gum disease. This is because saliva clears food particles from the mouth, which reduces the likelihood that the particles will get stuck in dental plaque. This decreases the amount of plaque accumulation along the gum line, which is the main cause of gum disease. Saliva also controls bacterial populations with its antimicrobial properties that destroy bacterial cells.
Holds Dentures in Place
Not only is saliva important for people who have teeth, but it is also important for those that have lost their teeth and are using dentures as a restoration method. Saliva helps to keep dentures in place by creating suction between the gums and the denture. Saliva also acts as a lubricant on the gums in order to prevent denture sores from forming.
Prevents Bad Breath
Bad breath, more formally known as halitosis, occurs when there are large amounts of bacteria in the mouth. In most cases, bad breath is accompanied by plaque buildup. Since saliva decreases plaque buildup and bacterial populations in the mouth, it helps to decrease the likelihood of developing bad breath.
Assists With Eating
Just as your teeth are an important part of eating, so is saliva. In fact, saliva helps to make your food soft enough so that your teeth can grind it down without becoming damaged. This softeness also allows you to swallow the food without choking. Not only that, but saliva contains an enzyme called amylase, which breaks down starches in the mouth and begins the digestion process. Finally, saliva allows you to taste your food by breaking the food down into chemicals that can be processed by the taste receptor cells on your tongue. Without adequate saliva production while eating, your foods would taste similar and even possibly bitter.