The Importance of Saliva

Few people understand how essential saliva is to great oral health.  Most people know that a dry mouth isn’t a good thing, but you have to know all of the wonderful things saliva does to really understand why this is so.  In this week’s blog, we’ll describe the important effects of saliva on the oral cavity.

The First Step in Digestion

Saliva is an essential part of the digestive process.  When you chew your food, saliva helps you form small blouses that are easy to swallow.  Saliva aids swallowing to help you pass food from your mouth to the esophagus.

Saliva also contains the very first digestive enzymes to which you expose your food.  These enzymes begin breaking down large molecules in the food as the first step in digestion.

Without saliva, people have trouble swallowing, and they actually obtain fewer nutrients from their food.  Saliva is essential to good digestion!


We know that saliva moistens the inside of the mouth.  Did you know that this lubrication is essential to the movement of your tissues against your teeth?  Saliva allows the lips, cheeks and tongue to glide along the teeth.  This lubrication protects against injuries and mouth sores.

In a dry mouth, the soft tissues of the lips, cheeks, and tongue often stick to the teeth.  Without saliva, people are more likely to bite the inside of the mouth and suffer from painful ulcers and mouth sores.

pH Buffer

Saliva is naturally alkaline in its pH.  This is important for buffering the acidic pH produced by oral bacteria.  Most of the beverages we drink, besides plain water, are acidic.  Acid is bad for the hard structures of our teeth.  Our saliva works to maintain a neutral pH inside the mouth.

The bacteria that cause cavities also produce a strong acid within dental plaque where it rests on the teeth.  This is the mechanism through which they penetrate enamel.  Saliva’s alkaline pH buffers these acids and fights the development of cavities.

Those without a healthy amount of saliva have a high risk for tooth decay.

Remineralizing Agent

In another cavity-fighting mechanism, saliva contains minerals that can re-harden the tooth after an acid attack by cavity-causing bacteria.  As the acid softens and weakens enamel, enamel undergoes a process known as demineralization.  Demineralization is just what it sounds like – a removal of mineral structure in the enamel.  Saliva counteracts demineralization by putting minerals back into the enamel.

This is a second way in which those without adequate saliva suffer an increased cavity risk.  When they undergo demineralization, they do not have the saliva carrying replacement minerals to the teeth.

Bad Breath Fighter

A dry mouth is a stinky mouth.  Saliva fights plaque and bacterial and reduces its ability to adhere to the teeth.  When you do not have saliva, the bacteria can easily proliferate and produce a more concentrated odor.

The Biggest Enemies of Healthy Saliva

It is important to know how important saliva is.  It is also important to know how to preserve a healthy flow of saliva.  The biggest culprits that reduce saliva output are prescription medication, smoking, and dehydration.  You should never quit taking a prescription medication, but if you think it could be making your mouth dry, you can speak to your doctor about adjusting the dosage.

If you smoke (anything), you should quit.  There is nothing good about smoking, and its effect on your saliva is terrible.

The simplest enemy to fight is dehydration!  Making great beverages choices can make a big difference in your saliva output.  Make sure you are drinking plenty of plain water.  Your body cannot make enough saliva if it is dehydrated.  Avoid drinks that actually cause you to lose water, like alcohol, caffeine, and high-sugar beverages.

More Questions about Saliva and its Benefits for Oral Health?

Call Timberlake Dental at 940-382-1750 to schedule a consultation with Dr. Chowning.  He can answer any question you have about saliva and any specific salivary issues you may have.

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