Spit. Dribble. Slobber.
There are hundreds of words for saliva, depending on the context, what it’s being used for and who’s creating it. But one thing we know is that almost everything with a pulse creates it – including humans. Saliva has a pretty important job to do in our mouths, and can be a big indicator for our overall health.
What Is Saliva?
So, other than being the wet stuff in your mouth, what exactly is saliva?
If we look at the definition, it’s a clear liquid made by several glands in your mouth called salivary glands, and plays an important role in keeping your body healthy.
It’s mostly made of water (99.5% in fact), but it also contains electrolytes, mucus, white blood cells, epithelial cells, enzymes and antimicrobial agents. All of that works together to do a pretty critical job.
For example, saliva:
- Keeps your mouth moist and comfortable
- Helps you chew, taste and swallow
- Fights germs in your mouth, preventing bad breath
- Contains proteins and minerals that protect tooth enamel, preventing tooth decay and gum disease
- Helps keep dentures securely in place, if you wear them
Your mouth automatically makes saliva when you chew, and the harder you chew, the more saliva you make.
You can also stimulate the salivary glands by sucking hard sweets or chewing gum, as it mimics the same motion.
The average person creates between 2-4 pints of saliva a day, with peak production happening in the afternoon.
Your mouth has a total of six major salivary glands (along with hundreds of minor ones) responsible for creating this magical soup, which can be found inside each cheek, at the bottom of your mouth, and near your front teeth by the jawbone.
Too Little Saliva
One of the more common issues we see is dry mouth – which happens when your mouth stop producing enough saliva. Since everybody produces different amounts of saliva there is no specific amount, or lack of it, that defines dry mouth – it’s more individual to the person. But if your mouth isn’t making enough saliva then your mouth becomes dry and causes a condition called – you guessed it – dry mouth.
Dry mouth can lead to all sorts of problems, including uncomfortable swelling o the gums, tongue and other tissues in your mouth. It also gives germs the perfect breeding ground with lots of food particles to eat (which would have been washed away by the saliva), leading to tooth decay, gum disease and bad breath. It can also mess with your sense of taste, so some of your favourite foods might taste a bit off to you.
Dry mouth can be caused by all sorts of things, from dehydration and adrenaline surges to smoking and certain medications.
Severe dry mouth can be in indicator of other diseases so please ask your dentist if you are worried
For patients with severe dry mouth problems the Appledore team can prescribe special mouthwashes and give relevant advice.
Too Much Saliva
At the opposite end of the spectrum, your mouth could suddenly start producing too much saliva instead.
This generally isn’t considered something to worry about unless it’s persistent and causing problems. After all, it’s normal to make more of less saliva throughout the day depending on what you eat or drink, and your body usually takes care of any excess by just swallowing it.
You can also put your salivary glands into overdrive by accident, particularly if you eat very spicy or very sour foods. This stimulates your taste buds and tells your body to produce more saliva which is common since acidic foods tend to trigger a lot more saliva than sweet foods.
But too much saliva can cause a problem if:
- One of more of your salivary glands is overactive
- You have problems swallowing
The causes for chronic production of too much saliva are a little more complex, and can be caused by anything from eating the wrong things and medications through to more severe issues like Bell’s palsy, strokes or Parkinson’s disease.
If you are having issues with producing too much saliva, you should make an appointment to see your dentist right away
Dr Teresa‘s Top Tips
Producing too much or too little saliva can make your mouth really uncomfortable, and it can sometimes make it difficult to do day to day tasks. If the issue is minor, or doesn’t last long, then you may be able to treat it yourself at home, and the Appledore team have some tips to help you do that.
For dry mouth:
- Drink plenty of water
- Chew sugar-free gum
- Suck on sugar-free candy
For too much saliva:
- Prescription medicines
If you’re struggling with any issues with saliva, it’s always worth having a chat with your dentist. We will be able to examine your mouth and your teeth, ask some basic questions and determine whether this is something normal you can manage at home, or if you need to go and see a doctor for further treatment.