Did you know that the human body produces about 2-4 pints of saliva a day? Saliva is produced by salivary glands in the cheeks, under the tongue, and in the jawbone by your front teeth. The amount of saliva is usually at its highest in the late afternoon and its lowest at night. Saliva production also increases when you chew. In fact, the more you chew, the more saliva you produce.
Saliva, or spit, is the clear fluid that lubricates the inside of your mouth. It is composed of water, enzymes, bacteria, viruses, mucus, blood cells, and undigested food particles. Although many people don’t give much thought about their “spit”, it actually plays many important roles. In fact saliva can help to maintain your oral health, as well as your overall health. Here are some of the things that your saliva does:
Helps with Eating
One main function of saliva that most people are familiar with is that it helps you eat. Saliva saturates the food so that it is soft enough to be chewed and swallowed. Beyond that, the enzyme amylase in saliva also helps to start digestion in the mouth by breaking down starches. Last, but certainly not least, saliva also allows you to actually taste the food you eat. This is because saliva breaks down the food into chemicals that are then processed by the taste receptor cells on your tongue. Without saliva, these foods would not break down into chemicals and the taste receptor cells would not be able to recognize them. Simply stated, food would have no taste.
Protects the Teeth
The second main function of saliva is to protect the teeth from decay. There are a few different ways that your saliva works to protect your teeth. One way is through forming a protective barrier around the teeth that contains bicarbonate. When decay-causing bacteria release acidic waste products, this bicarbonate barrier helps to neutralize the acid in order to minimize damage done to the enamel. Another way saliva protects the teeth is through its components. Saliva contains electrolytes such as calcium and phosphorus, which helps to strengthen the tooth enamel to decrease the likelihood of cavity formation.
Prevents Gum Disease
Saliva also helps to prevent gum disease by controlling the amount of bacteria in the mouth. For starters, saliva contains antimicrobials, which kill off decay-causing bacteria. Additionally, saliva also helps to decrease plaque accumulation by washing away food particles. In decreasing bacterial populations and plaque accumulation along the gum line, saliva helps to reduce the risk of developing gum disease.
Holds Dentures in Place
Although this does not apply to everyone, this really matters for those who have dentures. Saliva helps to hold dentures in place by creating suction between the denture and the gums. This stabilizes the dentures and prevents them from slipping or falling out. Saliva also acts as a lubricant to prevent denture sores on the gums.
Halitosis, or bad breath, occurs when there are high levels of bacteria in the mouth. Adequate saliva levels help keep the mouth clean and reduce bacterial population, which decreases bad breath.