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How Important Is Saliva to Your Dental Health?

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You probably don't think that much about the role of your saliva in your health—but it's actually very important to your dental health, which can affect your overall physical health. Learn more about why saliva is so important, what causes serious problems with saliva production, and what you can do about issues with saliva production.

Why is saliva so important?

Your salivary glands, which are just inside your cheeks at the bottom of your mouth and under your jaw in the front, make two to four pints of saliva every day. This clear fluid, which is mostly water, lubricates your mouth while you chew and also includes special enzymes that start breaking down your food. Saliva also helps keep your mouth cleaner, washes the majority of food off your teeth, and helps fight infections with its antimicrobial agents.

Saliva also ultimately helps food travel down your throat without scraping its delicate lining and aids in digestion. Saliva also helps neutralize the acids that are in your food that would otherwise contribute to the breakdown of the enamel on your teeth.

What can cause your saliva production to decrease?

A lot of different things can influence how much saliva you produce. Smell the right food, and your salivary glands can kick into high gear rather quickly. However, there are a lot of reasons that saliva can suddenly decrease as well. For example, many people have experienced the feeling of dry mouth when they're momentarily anxious or afraid. 

However, while a momentary dry mouth is not really a problem, long-term dry mouth is actually a serious condition that can lead to increased problems with gum disease, decayed enamel, mouth infections, and cavities. Chronic dry mouth can be idiopathic, meaning that there's no known reason for it, or it can be the result of numerous medical conditions, like some auto-immune disorders or profound emotional stress. There are also a number of medications, from painkillers to steroids, that can cause someone to experience chronic dry mouth. Saliva production can also decrease as a response to physical dehydration.

There are also some things that you can do to increase saliva production:

  • suck on sugarless hard candy 
  • chew sugar-free gum
  • increase your fluid intake in general
  • sip plain water constantly

If these methods still aren't successful, discuss the problem with your dentist. There are medications that you can take that encourage your salivary glands to work harder, so that's another possible option. Talk to a professional such as Tore D Steinberg DDS PC to learn more.