Ok, so we know that saliva is not the most popular conversation topic. But, believe it or not, saliva is the unsung hero of your oral health! It’s an essential defense against bacteria and decay, aids in digestion, protects your teeth, helps you taste, and reduces pain. Read on to discover 6 surprising things you never knew about your saliva.
It’s the most effective at fighting bacteria.
Saliva keeps your body healthy by fighting off any bacteria that enters your mouth. It keeps things moving and prevents bacteria from lodging between or on your teeth. Beyond that, it also contains white blood cells. These white blood cells are super-charged and more effective at fighting bacteria than white blood cells found anywhere else in your body! This makes sense of why animals are naturally inclined to lick open wounds. People even show this same instinct when they suck on a papercut. You can even put these blood cells to work boosting your infant’s immune system by spit-shining their pacifiers, a recent study found.
It’s a natural painkiller.
Here’s another great explanation for adding saliva to a wound- it can reduce the pain! In 2006, a study revealed a new type of painkiller found in saliva. This painkiller has been named Opiorphin and is 6 times more powerful than morphine. It inhibits pain perception, working against inflammation as well as physical pain.
It helps you taste food.
Taste buds are almost useless without saliva. Saliva breaks down food and takes particles of it to your taste buds so they can perceive it. Did you know taste buds are not only on your tongue but also around your mouth and in your upper throat? Saliva helps move food around your mouth quickly to reach all your taste buds. This helps taste buds perceive it and send the information about what you’re eating to your brain. It also keeps your taste buds healthy when you’re not eating by keeping them moist and bacteria-free. People who take certain medications or have certain diseases can suffer from dry mouth. They often notice that their sense of taste also suffers.
You make a ton of saliva.
We don’t notice since we are constantly swallowing and recycling saliva, but your body produces about 1-2 liters of saliva a day. That’s two medium bathtubs full of saliva every year! It’s important that your mouth stays wet all the time, so your body never stops making saliva. Your mouth works hard to constantly bathe your teeth and gums, cleaning them off and helping heal any sores or wounds.
Saliva production has a logical rhythm.
Although it never stops making saliva, your mouth does have phases of production that speed up or slow down, based on what your mouth needs. Cephalic saliva production happens when you see or smell something delicious. Anticipation literally makes your mouth water in preparation. The buccal saliva phase is how your body handles food actually being in your mouth. It ramps up production to help you taste, move food around your mouth and swallow it.
The oesophageal phase kicks in when you have food that needs to travel down your esophagus and it helps lubricate and soften food so it can travel down your throat. This saliva can also aid in digestion in the stomach. Gastric saliva production happens right before you’re about to throw up to help coat and protect your teeth from the harmful stomach acids. Lastly, intestinal saliva production helps reduce irritation in the upper intestines if you are having trouble digesting something.
Saliva is 99% water, 1% Amazing
Saliva is mostly water… so how does it do all these amazing things? That last 1% is chock full of useful compounds! Calcium, fluoride, phosphate, enzymes, proteins, plasma. Your saliva remineralizes teeth, fights bacterial and viral infections, lubricates, digests, buffers, and coats teeth and gums. One negative side effect of all of the useful minerals found in spit- they can sometimes stick together and form a small stone. We call these build-ups salivary stones, and they are similar to kidney stones. How they form is not completely understood, but experts recommend staying hydrated as one major preventative measure. Keeping your saliva flowing helps prevent minerals from building up and clumping together in your salivary glands.
Hopefully, we’ve shown how a mouth full of saliva is a healthy and thriving mouth, even if polite company discourages singing its praises! If you are experiencing dry mouth or mouth pain, please come in and let one of our professional dentists check it out. Dry mouth is the beginning of a whole plethora of other issues, so the sooner we treat dry mouth issues, the better!