Saliva is a thing that everyone takes for granted….until it’s gone! This ingenious liquid produced by a healthy human body serves many purposes.
Besides it’s 99.4 % water content, saliva also contains substances that are important to keep the gingiva, teeth and tongue healthy and comfortable. It aids in swallowing, speech, and our ability to taste food. It even begins the digestive process. Without saliva the bacteria that cause decay would be more persistent and there would be a greater prevalence of root surface decay.
Saliva is produced more when we chew by glands located in the cheeks and under the tongue. There are six major glands and hundreds of accessory glands. Saliva is deposited into the mouth thru ducts. Although everyone is different, the body will produce two to four pints of saliva per day with the majority flowing in the late afternoon and slowing to very little during sleep.
The remaining composition of saliva includes mucus, which is the lubricant. Amylase begins the digestion of starches; lipase is an enzyme that starts the breakdown of fats. All of this is in an electrolyte solution that helps to moisten the food we eat. Antibacterial compounds are also in saliva in small amounts to protect us from certain bacteria. Saliva even keeps our teeth protected from decay by cleansing away food debris. Without saliva everything will stick to the teeth and gums increasing the chance of decay and gum inflammation.
Dry mouth, or xerostomia, is a condition where the mouth’s salivary glands do not produce enough saliva to keep the mouth moist. Dry mouth is usually caused as a side effect of common medications such as cold medicines, allergy medications and high blood pressure drugs. Medications, either over the counter or prescription can inhibit the body’s production of saliva or change its composition or consistency. Certain medical conditions such as Sjogren’s Syndrome, HIV/AIDS, diabetes and Parkinson’s Disease can lead to dry mouth. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy can cause xerostomia depending on the area of the body being treated. The cells that make saliva are fast growing and can be destroyed by cancer treatments. Even just simple dehydration can make the mouth dry and uncomfortable.
Combating dry mouth is a constant battle especially if one has to continue taking medications that cause it. Sipping on water throughout the day can keep the mouth more comfortable. Chewing sugar free gum or sucking on special mints that contain Xylitol can aid the salivary glands to extrude more saliva. Oral rinses and artificial saliva can be found over the counter to replace a small amount of moisture. Substitute saliva does not contain the important proteins, minerals and enzymes of natural saliva but it can help with the uncomfortable feeling of dry mouth. At Martin Dentistry your hygienist of doctor may recommend products or changes in you rdiet based on your case. Persistent and immaculate oral hygiene is very important for xerostomia patients; brushing after every meal will help remove the food and bacteria that cause decay. Using fluoride containing toothpastes and rinses are necessary to protect the teeth from decay also.
Dry mouth is a most uncomfortable and difficult ailment that becomes a daily challenge. The best defense is to keep your entire body healthy in order to stay off medications that cause xerostoma. At Martin Dentistry we can help review your medications and medical history to help address your case of dry mouth. The health of the entire body shows itself in the mouth. Be thankful for the amazing saliva!