Why Is Saliva Important for Your Health?

National Hydration Day is celebrated in June. Hydration is incredibly important not only for your body, but also for your oral health, specifically in saliva production. Saliva plays a major role in your digestion, how healthy your teeth stay and if you develop oral health diseases. A problem like dry mouth can significantly raise your risk for tooth decay, and it can cause bad breath. Find out what the role of your saliva is in your mouth, how it keeps your teeth strong and what to do if you have dry mouth!

What Is Your Saliva?

Your body makes saliva through salivary glands located in your tongue and other parts of the mouth. You need that saliva to help dissolve food as you chew so that it is in smaller pieces for the rest of your body to digest. The smaller the pieces, the easier it is for your body to separate out nutrients and compounds that it needs from the waste products it doesn’t need.

Your mouth is constantly wet. Your teeth need to have that wetness to carry nutrients and minerals to your teeth. Everyday, foods and drinks strip away minerals from your teeth. This is called “demineralization”. However, foods and drinks also have minerals in them when you eat. Calcium products will have calcium, magnesium, phosphate and more. Those minerals help remineralize your teeth and are carried in your saliva when you eat. People who have dry mouth—or who don’t make enough saliva—will start to have problems with their teeth and oral health in general.

If you have ever avoided sharing food, drinks, chapstick and more with others because of saliva, that’s probably a good call. Many illnesses are transferred through saliva (such as mono). Saliva is full of bacteria, and bacteria tend to stick to other surfaces immediately if there is liquid involved. That is how you can get sick with just one sip of another’s drink. However, not all bacteria in saliva is bad. There are actually very important bacteria in your saliva that is vital for proper digestion and good oral health.

Mouth Bacteria

Mouth bacteria is needed in every mouth to start the process of digestion. As you chew your food, bacteria and acids in your saliva start to break down your food into smaller pieces. When it’s carried down your throat with swallowing, bacteria continually break up your food so the individual nutrients can be used for cells. That’s the type of bacteria you want to have.

A bacteria can be “bad” if it leads to erosion and breakdown of your teeth, gums and tongue. Tooth decay—or cavities—actually happens because of certain strains of mouth bacteria. That bacteria will mix with sugars when you eat to create a sticky film called plaque. That plaque will then stick to the teeth and acids in that substance will start to break up your tooth enamel minerals. Over time, if you don’t brush and floss your teeth, the minerals in your tooth enamel will break up and start to decay. Cavities then form and that part of your tooth dies. Mouth bacteria is constantly in your saliva and can be bad for your oral health when oral hygiene isn’t followed.

Dry Mouth and Your Saliva

Dry mouth is something that can actually be detrimental to your oral health without you realizing it. That’s because there isn’t enough saliva production in your mouth to get rid of mouth bacteria, nor is there enough saliva to bring minerals back to your teeth that are lost each day.

Dry mouth is one of the most common side effects of medications. Many people may not even realize that their dry mouth is uncommon or is a side effect of something they ingested. Some simply think that they are thirsty. However, you can fill up on liquids and still have your mouth feel incredibly dry. That’s not a good thing. Saliva helps break down the foods you eat and is the start of your digestive system. Saliva also helps to neutralize acids in your mouth to keep your teeth healthy. When dry mouth happens, your risk for tooth decay skyrockets as the bacteria in your mouth increases.

Opioids and other pain medications commonly cause dry mouth. Antihistamines and decongestants block histamine receptors to prevent allergic reactions. However, these also block the release of saliva. Blood pressure medicines cause gum swelling and growth and antidepressants can negatively affect your bones and teeth. Some medications can also cause oral funguses. Inhalers are common culprits of this. The only way to be sure about how your teeth will be affected by certain medications is to talk to your doctor and do your research. If you have dry mouth, speak to your dentist or doctor so you can avoid oral health problems.

Brushing and Flossing Your Teeth

It’s quite easy to take care of your oral health and strengthen your teeth. Establish oral health habits that will keep your teeth strong instead of weaken then. Brushing and flossing your teeth is absolutely essential to avoid tooth decay and gum disease. The American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth at least twice a day for two minutes at a time to avoid oral health diseases. Floss 1-2 times a day as well and use mouthwash to get rid of decay-causing mouth bacteria.

Your saliva is very important for keeping your teeth healthy. However, plaque is made right in your saliva from sugars in the foods you eat mixed with bacteria in your mouth. Keeping that sugar at bay will help your saliva do its job better of remineralizing your teeth with calcium, phosphate and the other minerals that keep your teeth strong. Limit your sugar intake. Check your medications to make sure they don’t cause dry mouth. See your dentist and/or doctor about your oral health concerns, dry mouth and current issues with your dental health. For questions or concerns, call Family & Cosmetic Dentistry of the Rockies today at (970) 223-8425!