The saliva in your mouth is chemically composed of water, minerals, proteins, mucus, and the enzyme amylase, and it serves several important purposes you may never have imagined. Chewing, combined with the introduction of saliva, is the first step in your body’s complex digestive process. Your teeth tear and grind food into pulp, and your saliva begins to break it down chemically. It would be impossible to swallow food without saliva, so, without it, you would starve to death. If you even think about food, your mouth begins to make more saliva in response to prepare. Stop and think about eating a steak or even some carrot sticks. See? Your body knows what it’s doing.
Did you know that saliva is crucial for maintaining the health of your teeth? It is. Saliva is always present in your mouth, and its thin covering of film helps to keep bad bacteria in your mouth from proliferating and attacking your teeth. It, along with your tongue, helps to keep food particles clear of the crevices in your mouth. When you eat acidic foods, saliva helps to neutralize those acids. The minerals in saliva work constantly to rebuild the enamel exterior of your teeth.
When there’s a reduction in the amount of saliva your mouth produces, it becomes a medical condition called xerostomia, also known as dry mouth. This can happen as a result of hormonal changes in the body such as during perimenopause or pregnancy, due to diseases like diabetes, or as a side effect of certain medications. Unfortunately, dry mouth poses a number of potential problems for your teeth. Gum disease and tooth decay are more likely to occur, and, with those, other oral health issues like bad breath or yeast infections. It’s much harder to chew your food and swallow, and it feels uncomfortable as well.
If you are experiencing dry mouth, talk to your dentist at your next check up about ways to combat it. Drinking more water and chewing sugar-free gum can help, as can avoiding spicy foods and alcohol. For persistent problems with dry mouth, your dentist will want to talk to you about any medications you are taking and also advise you about increasing the frequency of brushing and flossing so you will not get gingivitis or cavities.
Saliva doesn’t seem important until you’ve experienced dry mouth, but if you do, you’ll know what a difference a healthy, properly functioning mouth makes to your overall health. Make sure you take care of yours!