Why is saliva important?
Saliva plays an important role in maintaining good oral health.
Key roles of saliva include:
- Tissues of the mouth are strongest, the most effective and most comfortable when they are wet. Saliva lubricates the tissues and teeth keeping the mouth comfortable throughout the day and night.
- Saliva contains enzymes that aid in the processing of food before it reaches the stomach and allows for food to be lubricated and “mashed” making it easier to be broken down during digestion.
- pH buffering
- Saliva contains pH buffers and aids in raising the pH of the mouth back to a more neutral state (pH of 7).
- Saliva dilutes and washes away food debris from the mouth keeping the teeth free of unnecessary build up between brushing.
- Anti-bacterial and anti-microbial
- Anti-bacterial and anti-microbial agents in the saliva slow down the development of cariogenic (decay causing) bacteria in the mouth.
- Minerals contained in the saliva such as calcium and phosphate allow demineralised (tooth surface that has been softened or chemically altered) areas on the teeth to remineralise and harden.
A dry mouth or lowered saliva flow is known as xerostomia and is not necessarily a condition but a symptom or side effect and may be either permanent or transient. There are several factors that may affect saliva flow, these include but are not limited to; systemic disease (such as Sjogren’s Syndrome, Parkinson’s disease diabetes and many others), medication, dehydration, blocked salivary ducts or salivary stones, radiation of salivary glands, smoking, sleep apnoea (use of a CPAP machine).
Products are available such as mouth sprays, toothpaste, mouth rinses and oral gel that aim to promote or replace the saliva. The ingredients in these products aim to replicate some of the roles of natural saliva in the mouth and increase a person’s comfort.