When you think about good oral and general health saliva may not be one of the first things that comes to mind, but it plays a huge role in everything from tooth protection to food digestion.
Mastication is the act of chewing which begins the breakdown of food into small particles and increases its surface area (that’s why teeth are so important). Mastication also allows these small food particles to mix with saliva. Saliva contains many minerals, enzymes and antibacterial substances, lingual lipase and salivary amylase are two of the main enzymes in saliva.
Lingual lipase initiates the first stage of fat digestion, while salivary amylase initiates carbohydrate digestion (your teeth play the main role in starting protein digestion). Without these two enzymes our bodies would struggle to digest fat and carbohydrate adequately, they help start the digestive process and prepare the food to enter the stomach for further digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Saliva is produced and emptied into the oral cavity by various glands including the sublingual, submandibular and parotid glands. Saliva is controlled by the autonomic nervous system and is an involuntary action (meaning our body produces it on autopilot, without us having to even think about it).
Saliva also plays an important role in preventing infection and fungi in the mouth. As we said before saliva contains minerals, enzymes and antibacterial substances, it’s the antibacterial substances that form a line of defence against bad bacteria to stop it from causing havoc in the mouth. Saliva also contains proteins and minerals that protect tooth enamel, prevent tooth decay and gum disease.
This is a condition called dry mouth, which can be caused by certain diseases and medicines impacting how much saliva is in the mouth and causing the mouth to become dry. It can cause the gums, tongue and other tissues in the mouth to become swollen and sore, as well as leading to an increase in the number of bad bacteria. Drinking plenty of water can help with dry mouth, but it is also worth visiting a dentist or oral hygienist to help maintain a healthy oral cavity.