The Science of Saliva: Why It’s Crucial for Oral Health

The Science of Saliva: Why It’s Crucial for Oral Health

Hello and welcome to today's Essential Insight. I'm Dr. Shane Cope from Essential Health Ventures. Today, let's delve into something we often overlook but is crucial for our oral health - saliva. We all know that certain actions, like chewing soft candy, can stimulate saliva production. But have you ever stopped to think about the actual purpose of saliva in our mouths? It's a fascinating aspect of our oral ecosystem that plays a vital role, yet we generally only pay attention to it when problems arise. Today, we're going to explore the science behind saliva, understand its importance in maintaining oral health, and learn how to recognize when it's time to consult a healthcare professional about saliva production issues. Let's dive in and uncover the secrets of this essential component of our oral well-being.

What Exactly is Saliva?

Before we look at why saliva is so important, let’s consider what it really is. Now, technically, it’s mostly a liquid that’s made up of water. You’ll notice that saliva is also transparent, like water. However, there’s a difference - that’s because saliva contains a couple of molecules that offer benefits to your mouth, including your teeth and gums. 

Some of the molecules in saliva help your body begin the digestion process. Others focus on keeping your teeth strong and reducing the risk of decay. Some of the proteins that are found in saliva also protect your gums against disease, and help to prevent the breakdown of enamel that surrounds your teeth. 

How Does Your Mouth Make Saliva?

To understand saliva, you should also know where it comes from - and that’s where your salivary glands come into the picture. These are small glands that sit in your cheeks, toward the bottom of your face. 

They can be divided into two categories: Major and minor salivary glands.

The major salivary glands include:

  • Parotid
  • Sublingual
  • Submandibular

Around 90% of your saliva is produced by the major salivary glands. 

There are a lot of minor salivary glands in your mouth. They generally sit closer to the surface. 

Throughout the day, your salivary glands make saliva. Then, they gradually push the saliva into what is known as salivary ducts - think of them as small tubes that connect to the inner part of your mouth. These ducts then make it possible for saliva to be excreted into your mouth. 

The Role of Saliva in Oral Health

In a healthy person, about 0.4 to 0.5ml of saliva is secreted into their mouth every minute. This helps to ensure there is a consistent “film” of saliva on the surface of tissue in your mouth (gum, cheeks, etc). 

You can think of this film as a consistent moisturizer. They help to keep these tissues wet, moist, and lubricated. 

One of the main goals of these effects is to actually help prevent dry mouth from developing. Dry mouth is also called xerostomia and refers to a situation where you frequently feel like your mouth is dry. You’ll usually be thirsty consistently in this case. We’ll talk a bit more about dry mouth in the next section, but for now, let’s consider other roles that saliva plays too. 

Here are a few of the other reasons why saliva is such an important part of your oral health:

  • There are certain substances in saliva that have antimicrobial properties. This helps to control the amount of germs that are able to live in your mouth. When there are too many bacteria, it can lead to a gum or tooth infection. Similarly, when candida starts to build up in your mouth, it’s something that can result in oral thrush. The antimicrobial properties help to fight against these germs and microbes. 
  • By reducing the presence of bacteria in your mouth, saliva also helps to keep your breath fresh. That’s because bacteria can actually contribute to bad breath. 
  • Many people don’t realize this, but saliva actually plays a role in the process of eating too. It’s important to help you chew your food and to swallow. Plus, saliva also plays a role in taste. 
  • Minerals that are part of your saliva, along with some proteins, protect your enamel against damage. This, in turn, is a way to prevent your teeth from decaying and even goes a long way in helping to protect against gum disease. 

As you can see, each of these roles is important and contributes to oral health. 

Problems With Saliva Production

We’ve taken a look at why saliva is important for keeping your mouth, including your gums and teeth, healthy. But, sometimes, problems develop with the salivary glands, and we start to feel that we have too much or too little saliva. While the issue is sometimes only temporary, long-term exposure to saliva-related problems can actually be really bad for your oral health. 


In this section, we’ll take a look at what happens when you’ve got too much or too little saliva. When you have a better idea of these problems and their potential complications, you’ll further understand what role this transparent liquid plays in oral health. 

What Happens If You Have Too Much Saliva?

If you’ve got too much saliva, then, in most cases, it’s not something that you should stress about. In fact, it’s actually pretty normal for your salivary glands to make more saliva than usual in some cases. 

Have you ever eaten hot wings or bitten on a chili pepper and found that your mouth suddenly felt like it was overflowing with saliva? That’s a natural response that happens When certain foods touch the taste buds on your tongue; they can then signal your salivary glands to make more saliva. 

However, there are some cases where excess saliva is not something that you should ignore. For example, this can be due to a salivary gland that’s overactive - and when that’s the case, you have to understand why this happened. The thing is, if your salivary glands are overactive, it could result in problems like chronic drooling. You could also end up choking on saliva when you constantly have to swallow due to the excessive production of the liquid. 

Now, it’s important to understand that too much saliva won’t lead to the same complications as too little - which usually includes dry mouth. But, it can still be concerning and even cause embarrassment in some situations. 

Getting down to the root cause is important, and this sometimes relates to medication. It’s true that there are some medications that can increase saliva production. You could speak with your doctor, as they can take a closer look at any prescription and over-the-counter meds you’re taking, and consider whether any of them could be a culprit in your situation. 

Apart from medication, there are also some health conditions and even medical scenarios that could result in excess saliva production, so let’s take a closer look at them:

  • Being poisoned
  • Getting rabies, such as after you’re bitten by an infected dog
  • The presence of Cerebral or Bell’s palsy
  • Having suffered a stroke in the past
  • Macroglossia, is a term used to describe an enlarged tongue
  • Lou Gehrig’s disease (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis)
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease and heartburn

You should take note that people with Parkinson’s disease and those with intellectual disabilities have also been found to have a greater risk of this problem. 

If too much saliva becomes a concern and interferes with your life, but your doctor cannot treat an underlying issue, then there are a couple of things to try out. For example, scopolamine is a medication that helps to reduce saliva production. Just be sure to talk to your dentist or doctor about the possible side effects and whether it could interfere with other medication you’re taking. It’s usually prescribed to help manage nausea and vomiting, but does hold the potential for reducing excess saliva - however, this only accounts for some scenarios. 

Botox shots and surgery can also be used in some cases to help. 

What Happens If You Have Too Little Saliva?

If your salivary glands don’t make enough saliva, then it can become a major problem for your oral health. That’s because a deficiency in saliva results in dry mouth - something that has been linked to several adverse reactions. 

At first, you’ll notice that you feel thirsty regularly when your saliva levels are low. However, over time, there are other problems that you may start to notice. 

Now, when you have a dry mouth, it’s something that can cause bacteria to grow. Remember we talked about the fact that saliva helps to fight against germs? Well, when there’s too little saliva, these bacteria and other germs start to grow in your mouth. Together with the dry mouth, it sets off a chain of reactions that also results in bad breath. 

Oral thrush is another thing that you may notice. If you have this type of infection, you’ll usually notice white debris collect on the surface of your tongue. However, other parts of your mouth can also start to show signs of the infection. When you treat it with an anti-fungal treatment, however, you may notice that the oral thrush comes back soon. That’s mainly due to the consistency of your dry mouth. This infection is also known as oral candidiasis

The dryness can eventually begin to affect your lips, cause a burning sensation in your mouth, and even cause changes to your ability to taste food. Tooth decay can happen with too little saliva and over time, you may also begin to develop gum disease as a complication. 

Staying hydrated and chewing on sugar-free gum are common recommendations to alleviate dry mouth. Regular sips of water throughout the day can be a quick fix, and carrying sugar-free gum can offer temporary relief without the risk of altering blood sugar levels, which is a concern with sugary gums. However, these methods may not always provide sufficient relief for everyone.

In such cases, it's worth exploring specialized solutions like Essential's Dry Mouth Spray. This product offers an effective alternative to traditional home remedies and can be particularly beneficial for those whose salivary glands aren't producing enough saliva. Unlike artificial saliva or saliva substitutes that come in various forms, Essential's Dry Mouth Spray provides a convenient and easy-to-use option for keeping your mouth moist and comfortable. If you find that common methods aren't quite cutting it, discussing options with your dentist or doctor is advisable, and Essential's Dry Mouth Spray could be the solution you're looking for.

While they can be useful, note that these saliva substitutes don’t contain the minerals, proteins, and antimicrobial properties that real saliva contains. Thus, it’s a good idea to work on a strategy to address to reduced saliva production while you’re using these formulas to keep your mouth from drying out too much.  

When Should You See a Dentist?

When you’ve got problems with your saliva, it’s important to understand when you should see a dentist. Now, it’s not always something directly related to your mouth - for example, sometimes, it’s because you’re on medication. However, you still have to keep in mind the impact that too little saliva can have on your dental and gum health. 

If you find that you have a dry mouth a lot, then it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your dentist. They can assess your mouth and look for any signs of damage. For example, when you have a dry mouth due to little saliva, it can increase the risk of tooth decay, gum disease, and oral thrush. Your dentist can identify these complications early - and that makes the outcome look more positive. 

While it’s important to see your dentist in these circumstances, don’t overlook the role of regularly going for a checkup. Even if you don’t have any complications or concerns, there can still be very small problems that may escalate into something bigger later on. You should check in with your dentist at least once a year. 

You should also note that sometimes, the excess saliva is linked to a health condition that doesn’t affect your mouth. These are situations where you rather need to make an appointment 

Conclusion

Your salivary glands make saliva throughout the day, increasing products in the afternoon, and slowing down at night. However, sometimes, these glands are overactive or underactive, and when that happens, it can cause problems. Luckily, there are effective ways to manage these issues, but it’s still a good idea to check up regularly with your dentist and doctor - that way, you’ll be able to keep up with your own health. 

Join the Conversation and Discover Effective Solutions

Connect with Our Community

Are you navigating the challenges of dry mouth and seeking support and insights? We invite you to join our vibrant Facebook group, a space where you can share your experiences and learn from others dealing with similar issues. It's a community where knowledge, tips, and personal stories about managing dry mouth are exchanged freely. Don't navigate this journey alone; become part of a supportive network that understands your struggles.

Explore More Resources

We also encourage you to delve into our wide range of resources and articles dedicated to effective oral health management. Our website is a treasure trove of information, offering guidance, tips, and the latest findings in oral health care. Whether you're looking for in-depth articles, practical advice, or the latest trends in oral health, our resources are here to enlighten and guide you.


Try Essential's All-Natural Dry Mouth Solutions

And if you're looking for a gentle yet effective way to combat dry mouth, explore our selection of all-natural products. Essential's Dry Mouth Spray, formulated with the goodness of nature, is designed to provide you with the relief you need without the harsh chemicals. It's more than just a product; it's a step towards a healthier, more comfortable daily life. Experience the difference that natural ingredients can make in managing dry mouth.

Your journey to better oral health starts here. Join our community, explore our resources, and try Essential's Dry Mouth Spray. Together, let's find the solutions that work best for you. Visit us now and take the first step towards a more comfortable and healthier smile. 🌿🦷

References

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK538325/ 

https://www.nature.com/articles/bdjteam2015123

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2883761

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK545282/

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