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The Scoop on Saliva: What is it and Why it’s Important

Stop and think for a moment about the last time you thought about the saliva in your mouth. Can’t remember? You’re not alone. Not many of us pay any attention to our saliva. It’s just there, right? Saliva production happens naturally, just like breathing or your heartbeat.

But as unremarkable saliva appears to be, it does play a very important role in the health of your mouth.

What is Saliva?

Saliva is a clear fluid, mostly water, which is produced by the salivary glands. But it’s not just water. Saliva also contains all sorts of good things like:

  • Electrolytes
  • White blood cells
  • Mucous
  • Enzymes
  • Epithelial cells
  • Antimicrobial substances

Enzymes such as lysozyme and peroxidase are also found in saliva. These are antibacterial, which help kill bacteria throughout the mouth.

Here’s a fun fact: Throughout the course of a day the salivary glands can produce up to 4 pints of saliva!

What Does Saliva Do?

Saliva plays many roles in the mouth, the largest which is to lubricate the mouth. A properly lubricated mouth is a healthy mouth. Saliva also helps with digestion by removing food from teeth as you chew and swallow. This protects your overall oral health. There are also proteins and minerals in saliva, both of which help to prevent gum disease and tooth decay.

Not only does saliva contain approximately 72 different types of bacteria, it also contains opriorphin, which is a powerful painkiller. Opriorphin is six times as strong as morphine and helps to block pain signals to the brain.

What Happens If You Produce Too Little Saliva?

Producing too little saliva can have a number of causes. Someone who has the autoimmune disorder Sjogren’s syndrome will produce little to no saliva at all. Other causes include: dehydration, medication, diabetes, smoking, and even stress.

When you produce too little saliva, you’ll end up with dry mouth. Dry mouth can lead to bad breath, a metallic taste in the mouth, thrush in the mouth, and dental issues including cavities. If saliva is thick and stringy, your body may have trouble producing saliva.

What Happens If You Produce Too Much Saliva?

It is possible to produce too much saliva. This might not seem like a problem as saliva does so much good for the mouth, but it can be caused by other issues. Producing too much saliva is called hyper-salivation. Causes of hyper-salivation include gastroesophageal reflux disease, pellagra (niacin/b3 deficiency), other diseases, and may be a side effect of some medications, just to name a few. Producing too much saliva can cause difficulty swallowing, eating, and even talking. As you can see, producing the right about of saliva is extremely important when it comes to the health of your mouth.

If you’re worried that you produce too much or too little saliva, it’s important that you get checked this checked out at your next appointment. Remember, dry mouth or hyper-salivation can have underlying causes. It’s not just your mouth to care for, but your overall health.