The Important Role Saliva Plays in Oral Health

You may have heard saliva described as “nature’s mouthwash.”   And while the saliva we produce does wash away harmful bacteria, the dental benefits received from saliva make it more critical than just as a mouthwash.
Saliva can be thought of as our own little biological defense system for the mouth. While the majority of people produce the appropriate amount of saliva, some patients suffer from dry mouth; others feel they overproduce saliva. While your dentist can provide solutions for both of these situations, let’s focus on the benefits generated for the majority of patients.
Saliva is clear like water (after all the human body is comprised of mostly water), and enters the mouth from salivary glands located inside our mouth. But saliva is not just water. Saliva contains important enzymes for food digestion. And dental health may be compromised without sufficient saliva production because saliva:

  • Aids in breaking food down when we chew so it can be swallowed. Without saliva, eating food would be like trying to eat a mouthful of saltine crackers without any liquid to wash it down.
  • Helps keep the mouth from drying out. When the mouth is dry, lips and tongue tend to make speaking more difficult than when the mouth is hydrated.
  • Provides the ability to flush odor causing bacteria that lead to bad breath.
  • Naturally contains minerals that aid in the protection of dental enamel, which in turn is beneficial in controlling dental decay.

Patients that suffer from a lack of saliva production run the risk of increased dental decay and periodontal disease. Certain medications are at the root of a dry mouth, but this problem is also present with certain medical conditions. If the problem is not chronic or critical, your dentist can make several recommendations to increase saliva production. Make sure you are drinking enough fluids daily to keep the body fully hydrated. Sucking on sugar free candy or chewing sugar free gum are natural actions that should help. There are several rinses available that are designed to keep the mouth moist as well.
Sufficient saliva production is just one of the aspects needed to maintain good oral health. Daily flossing and brushing accompanied with bi-annual visits to our dentist, Dr. Philip Kozlow, for a complete cleaning and dental exam are important components for healthy teeth and gums.

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