If you ever stop to think about it, saliva is weird. It pools in our mouth when you think about food, you let it fly when challenging your brother to a spitting contest, and sometimes, you’ll find it on your sheets when you wake up. Generally, we don’t spend too much time contemplating this strange substance, but in actuality, it plays an enormous role in the overall health of our mouths.
What’s Saliva Made of?
Saliva is formed by several different glands located in our cheeks, below our tongue, and around our gums. When these glands activate, small ducts carry the solution to our mouth. As you may have guessed, saliva is mostly water. The exact composition is just about 98 percent water, and two percent electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and calcium, as well as mucus, white blood cells, epithelial cells, enzymes, and antimicrobial agents.
What’s the Function of Saliva?
Saliva has so many functions, it might make you drool! The most obvious is that is softens food, making it easier to swallow. But there are many other important functions as well. The dozens of enzymes found in saliva can actually begin the process of digestion, especially dietary starches and fats, before food has reached the stomach.
Along with these digestive enzymes are antimicrobial agents that help to disperse harmful bacterial before it multiplies. The minerals even heal your teeth. Unfortunately, saliva isn’t perfect. Minerals in saliva are part of the reason why we get tartar. If we feed our mouth bacteria too much starch and sugar, gum disease causing bacteria can begin to multiply, even increasing our chances of heart disease and stroke if left unchecked.
Can You Have Too Little Saliva?
The importance of saliva becomes obvious as soon as we don’t have enough. Xerostomia, also known as dry mouth, can cause a number of issues including cavities, and infection. Often, dry mouth isn’t something we can easily control, as it’s usually caused by medication. However, some people naturally develop it with age. If you suffer from dry mouth, try to drink at least 10 cups of water daily. Make sure to drink after you eat, to flush out food particles when you’re done eating.
If you experience dry mouth in the mornings, this could be a sign of sleep apnea, a dangerous disorder that can significantly increase your chances of heart attack. Other symptoms can include morning headaches, and trouble concentrating during the day.
For those with dry mouth, it’s important to maintain a solid oral hygiene routine of brushing and flossing twice a day. It’s also important to schedule a cleaning and checkup every six months, to stop any dental issues such as a cavities from progressing into something more costly and painful