The importance of saliva for your oral health

The importance of saliva for your oral health

Whoever first coined the expression “it ain’t worth spit” as a way to denote that something was no good obviously knew nothing about the importance of saliva.

The importance of saliva for your oral health

Most of us take it for granted and don’t ever give it a second thought. But those who suffer with conditions that diminish the quantity and quality of their saliva know all to well the worth of spit! Saliva per forms many impor tant functions in our mouths, not the least of which is to protect our general health.

It contains immunoglobulins that serve as a first line of defence against certain microoganisms. It keeps the mucous membranes moist, which is vital to their health and to our comfort. If mucous membranes dry out they will ulcerate, and quickly become infected. Saliva acts as a lubricant without which it would be virtually impossible to swallow food or to speak. It bathes the teeth and washes out debris and bacteria from around them to help prevent tooth decay. Any condition that reduces salivar y flow can drastically affect one’s quality of life.

How is saliva produced?

Saliva is produced by glands in and around the mouth. The larger ones are known as the major salivary glands and include the parotids, which are the ones that swell up and make you look like a chipmunk when you get the mumps.

There are also dozens of smaller ones, called the minor salivary glands, spread throughout the lips, cheeks, palate and floor of the mouth. Any condition that disrupts these glands, especially the major ones, will affect salivary flow and quality. Dr y mouth, a condition called xerostomia, may be induced by certain autoimmune diseases such as Sjogrens syndrome. It can also occur in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy and may be especially problematic for those receiving radiation therapies for the head and neck. But the most common cause is medication.

One study done in 1986 identified over 400 medications with the side effect of xerostomia or dry mouth. Those who suffer from dry mouth may deal with tremendous discomfort and diminished oral health. Root decay that encircles teeth is often associated with xerostomia and it is a big problem for dentists because it tends to progress rapidly and is very difficult to restore successfully.

The good news is that there are treatments that in many cases can increase salivary flow or that can minimize the damage done when salivary function can not be restored. Dentists may council patients on the importance of proper water intake (hydration), to use sugarless gum or mints to stimulate salivary flow and on the tremendous Those who suffer from dry mouth may deal with tremendous discomfort and diminished oral health.

Importance of exemplary oral hygiene at home

Medicaments are available through your pharmacy that act as salivary substitutes such as the Biotene line of products. You may be instructed in the home use of topical fluoride pre- scribed by you dentist and applied in specially made trays to help reduce the ravages of xerostomia on the teeth.

And finally as a last resort in severe cases, your den- tist or physician may prescribe a drug called pilocarpine to stimulate saliva flow. Next time you hear the expression “ain’t worth spit”, remember just how important spit really is to your health and enjoyment of life. If you suffer from dry mouth talk to your dentist about what treatments may be available because . . . your “Mouth Matters”.

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