Updated: Sep 12, 2019
Saliva is a body fluid that is absolutely essential to dental health.
It has an irreplaceable role in preserving, protecting and supporting the health of our teeth, gums and oral soft tissues.
The truth of how crucial saliva is, is revealed when a person develops a dry mouth. Teeth rapidly decay, gums become inflamed and infected and soft tissues of the cheeks and lips become thin, painful and ulcerated.
Yet how many of us give saliva a moments thought? If anything it is ignored, and when it is thought of it is perceived to be a nuisance or an embarrassment.
Saliva is certainly not considered to be as valuable to our health as blood - yet teeth and gums cannot stay healthy without it.
The contents of saliva are too numerous to list here, but there are a number of standout ones worthy of discussion. They include:
Electrolytes - sodium, potassium, calcium. magnesium, bicarbonates, phosphates and ureas,
Immune system compounds called immunoglobulins,
Proteins, including hormones,
Calcium, phosphates and proteins work together to protect and remineralise tooth enamel. They prevent tooth decay and/or repair tooth structure damaged by decay. They seal the surface of teeth damaged by acids or overly harsh toothbrushing.
Bicarbonates, phosphates and ureas reduce the acidity of the mouth environment.
Immunoglobulins, proteins and enzymes have powerful antibacterial and anti-fungal effects.
Proteins produce the smooth quality of saliva that stops our lips, cheeks and tongue from sticking uncomfortably to our teeth.
The proportion of these contents changes through out the day and in response to the things we are doing. For example, eating food not only increases the amount of saliva, it makes the saliva more alkaline. This promotes the digestion of carbohydrates, and increases the capacity of saliva to repair tooth enamel.
All in all, saliva is the best mouthwash in the world.
And we get it for free.
To maintain good oral health we must look after our saliva. Simple steps to do this include:
Drink plenty of plain water. Tap, bottled, filtered, whatever you prefer. Your body needs sufficient water to make saliva.
Eat a diet rich in vegetables and proteins. These provides the minerals and amino acids essential to producing quality saliva.
Sleep well. Every single system in the body functions to its best capacity when we sleep deeply, and go to bed before 10pm.
Limit diuretic drinks (the ones that make you pee), eg: coffee, black and green tea, alcohol.
Avoid mouth breathing because it dries the mouth out. Nasal and sinus congestion are common causes of dry mouth, so talk to your doctor if you experience them.
Do all you can to reduce and quit smoking and vaping.
Drink plenty of water when you are taking medications. All medications inhibit saliva flow so drink more water than usual.
Saliva is one of the small details that is easy to overlook when it comes to caring for our dental and overall health.
It is a great reminder that in attending to the small details, we are capable of producing immense benefits to our wellbeing.