We often take saliva for granted and don’t give it much thought, but it actually plays a much more important role in our bodies than many of us realize, from maintaining oral health to diagnosing other diseases in our bodies.
What is Saliva?
Saliva is a substance, mostly made of water, produced by the glands around your mouth that coats and protects the teeth. It also has other benefits, such as:
- Acts as a lubricant in your mouth to help chew, taste, and swallow
- Helps control pH levels in the mouth
- Helps fight bacteria
- Prevents bad breath
- Contains proteins and minerals, which protect the tooth enamel and prevent dental caries and gum disease
- Helps break down food into smaller pieces, which then allows it to be digested faster by your stomach
- Keeps the mouth moist and warm
How is Saliva Produced?
You make saliva when you chew; the more you chew, the more saliva you produce. The glands that secrete saliva are called parotid salivary glands and lie on either side of the jawbone; they’re located under the earlobe and around the chin. They produce large amounts of saliva during eating or drinking and during emotional stress or excitement.
Saliva’s Importance to Your Overall Health
Saliva doesn’t only keep your mouth healthy, it may also contain information about your general health. Because saliva shares many properties with blood, it can be used to detect and diagnose various oral and other diseases affecting your general health. Currently, research reports promising results on the use of saliva to help diagnose breast cancer, several oral cancers, gum disease, and viral hepatitis. It is even also used for rapid HIV testing.
What Happens if You Have Too Little Saliva
Having too little saliva – a condition called xerostomia – leads to dry mouth and throat, and this can be caused by a number of health conditions.
If you have xerostomia, you might find that your tongue feels like it’s coated with sandpaper or that the inside of your cheeks is coated in dust. Your lips may feel rough and cracked, too. Your breath may smell like stale air when it’s humid outside or even worse when it’s cold outside. Also, the lack of saliva can lead to cracks around your teeth or gums.
Two major diseases and health conditions that can cause xerostomia are diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
Diabetes affects the body’s ability to produce insulin, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney problems. People with diabetes who have high blood sugar tend to have dry mouths.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks healthy tissue in the joints causing pain, stiffness, and deformity of those joints. RA is also a common cause of dry mouth because people with this condition may also develop Sjogren’s syndrome (SS) which can reduce saliva production by damaging the nerves that send signals from our brain telling us when we need more moisture in our mouths.
Other conditions leading to too little saliva are:
- Blockages in one or more tubes that drain saliva (salivary duct obstruction)
- Chemotherapy and radiation therapy
- Structural problems with a salivary duct
- Many commonly used medications, such as antihistamines, analgesics, and antidepressants.
What Happens if You Have Too Much Saliva
It’s typically normal if you have too much saliva. Spicy or acidic foods and drinks can trigger your body to produce more saliva than usual.
However, if the condition persists, you need to talk to your doctor. Some medications can cause your body to produce excess saliva. Some health conditions, such as cerebral palsy, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), and stroke, can also cause frequent drooling. You may also experience bouts of excessive drooling if you’re experiencing physical discomfort or pain from various medical conditions such as allergies and sinusitis.
Since saliva directly affects your oral and overall health, if you or a loved one are suffering from having too much or too little saliva, don’t wait to contact a professional. For any questions about saliva or oral health, contact Dr. Maestri, the trusted dentist in the Lafayette, LA, area. With more than a decade of experience, she is committed to providing the highest level of quality dental care to all her patients.