What Saliva Does

What Saliva Does

Saliva, commonly referred to as spit, is a clear, lubricating fluid that resides in the mouth. There are many different components of saliva, including water, mucus, proteins, bacteria, viruses, enzymes, electrolytes, blood cells, and undigested food particles. The body produces around 0.5-1.5 liters of saliva each day, most of which is produced in the late afternoon or while chewing. 

When you consider just how much saliva is produced daily, this can make you wonder just what saliva does. Although many people don’t realize it, saliva plays several important roles in your oral and overall health. Here are some things that saliva does: 

Prevents Tooth Decay

Saliva helps to prevent tooth decay and gum disease in several different ways. For starters, the protein found in saliva forms a protective barrier over the teeth and eliminates decay-causing bacteria. Electrolytes such as calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium are also components of saliva that help to harden tooth enamel, making it harder for decay to occur. Finally, saliva contains bicarbonate which helps to neutralize the acidic waste produced by bacteria. In this sense saliva acts as a buffer that decreases the amount of damage done to the enamel. 

Prevents Gum Disease

The most common cause of gum disease is an accumulation of plaque along the gum line. As food particles travel throughout the mouth, they can get stuck to the plaque deposits and act as a food source for bacteria, which increases bacterial populations. Eventually the excess bacteria causes the gum tissue to become inflamed. Saliva also helps to clear food particles from your teeth, which prevents the plaque buildup that leads to gum disease. Additionally, saliva contains antimicrobials that degrade bacterial cells and prevent them from growing. 

Helps to Eat

Many people have experienced the phenomenon of salivating in anticipation of a delicious meal. This is because saliva is a key element in helping you to eat. Saliva helps to moisten the food so that it is softer and easier to chew and swallow. It also contains an enzyme called amylase, which starts to break down starches into smaller molecules. Additionally, saliva allows you to taste the foods you are eating. This is because saliva breaks down chemicals in the food so that taste receptor cells on the tongue can do their job. People with decreased saliva production may have a hard time tasting foods or may experience a constant, bitter taste. 

Hold Dentures in Place

If you are a denture wearer, saliva is also important because it helps to hold your dentures in place. This is because saliva helps to create suction between your gums and the denture, which prevents the denture from shifting or falling out. Saliva also acts as a natural lubricant to prevent gum irritation from wearing dentures. 

Decreases Bad Breath

Bad breath, or halitosis, is caused by a bacterial buildup in the mouth. However, saliva helps to eliminate bacteria and functions as a natural cleaning system for the mouth. This decreases bacterial levels, as well as bad breath. 

Photo of Dr. Admar

Dr. Admar holds dual certificates — a Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) in 2010 from India and a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) in 2014 from Canada. He is now a full time practicing dentist in Kamloops where he provides a variety of services. Dr. Admar spends hundreds of hours in continued dental education to stay up to date in cosmetic and implant dentistry and he has achieved several advanced qualifications.

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