Salivary Gland Disease Saliva

Saliva, or spit, as it’s commonly known, may not seem like something to drool over. However, given the important function of saliva, it could certainly do with a little more respect.

Saliva is produced by the salivary glands in response to taste, appealing smells and the movement of your jaw muscles. The average person produces about half a liter, or a little over a pint, of saliva each day.

What Is Saliva?

Saliva is 99 percent water, but that’s not all there is to it. The other elements found in saliva promote digestion and protect your teeth. They also reveal a lot about what’s in your body, suggesting that this product of the salivary glands has the potential to be an effective diagnostic tool.

These are some of the other things found in saliva:

  • About 500 different kinds of protein
  • About 600 different kinds of bacteria
  • Cells from the lining of your mouth
  • Electrolytes
  • Food debris
  • Fungi
  • Medication
  • Toothpaste traces.

What Is Saliva Good For?

If you cut yourself, or burn your hand, your first response might be to stick it in your mouth, but that might not be the best course of action.

Saliva does contain antimicrobial and antifungal proteins, which can promote healing. Cuts or burns in your mouth heal faster than in other parts of your body. But saliva also contains bacteria, which might not help healing on the skin’s surface.

Saliva also shows promise as a diagnostic tool, and may help doctors test for the following:

  • HIV infection
  • Medication levels
  • Oral cancer
  • Recreational drug use
  • Type 2 diabetes.

The two most important things saliva and the salivary glands do is protect our teeth and start the digestive process.

Problems resulting from the absence of saliva can serve to demonstrate the function of saliva and its importance. Bouts of dry mouth are common, often due to nerves or dehydration, but long-lasting cases of dry mouth are called xerostomia, and can be very difficult to deal with. Problems due to dry mouth include tooth decay, gum disease, difficulty chewing, trouble swallowing and loss of your sense of taste.

Saliva and Oral Health

After you eat or drink, saliva helps clear away the remaining food and bacteria. It keeps your mouth from getting too acidic, which helps prevent tooth decay.

Saliva contains calcium and phosphorus, so it can also help repair tooth enamel before decay gets too advanced.

The digestive process actually starts in your mouth, when saliva from the salivary glands starts breaking down what you eat. This makes it easier for you to taste, chew and swallow your food. And that just might be everyone’s favorite function of saliva.

Resources

Alternative Medicine Zone. (2010). Can saliva really help heal? Retrieved September 27, 2010, from http://www.altmedicinezone.com/natural-remedies/can-saliva-really-help-heal/.

MSN Health. (2009). What’s in your saliva? Retrieved September 27, 2010, from http://health.msn.com/blogs/daily-dose-post.aspx?post=980381.

Shmerling, R. (2009). What your saliva says about you. Retrieved September 27, 2010, from http://health.msn.com/health-topics/oral-care/articlepage.aspx?cp-documentid=100259909.

WrigleyDentalCare.com. (n.d.). Saliva. Retrieved September 27, 2010, from http://www.betteroralhealth.info/orbit_us/general-public-area/inside-the-mouth/saliva/index.htm.