How Saliva Helps Protect Your Oral Health
To most of us, saliva is nothing more than a lubricant—a moisturizing substance that makes your mouth work the way that it does. But that slimy, water-like substance does a whole lot more than you probably know. In fact, many of the functions that center on the use of our mouth would likely be impossible without under-appreciated saliva.
Want to learn more about that strange, watery substance that’s always in your mouth? Here are 10 totally weird facts about saliva.
1. You produce quite a lot in a day.
You can tell that saliva is an important substance because of the sheer amount that you produce in a day. An average adult will secrete around 1 to 2 liters of saliva each day, helping to assist in the different functions that occur in the mouth.
2. Your saliva production changes depending on your posture.
It sounds pretty weird, but it’s true. Research has found that the amount of saliva you produce changes depending on how you’re positioned. You produce the most while you’re standing, and least when you’re lying down. Why does that happen? It’s not exactly clear, but experts suggest that it might have something to do with stimulation caused by the sympathetic nervous system.
3. It also changes depending on light.
Another strange thing about saliva production is that it seems to slow down when you’re in a dark room. One study found that the degree of lighting in a space could have significant impact on salivary flow rate. The darker the room, the slower saliva production is thought to be. Again, the reason isn’t exactly clear, but experts suggest that it might also be linked to the sympathetic nervous system.
4. It increases sensitivity to taste.
Without that slimy spit sloshing around inside your mouth, it would be impossible to taste and enjoy the food you eat. Studies have found that saliva actually interacts with certain foods to improve your sensitivity to flavors. Without saliva, most of the food you eat would be nothing but bland taste combined with texture, making the process of eating a whole lot less satisfying.
5. It starts to digest food before it enters your stomach.
Food needs to be moistened so that you can chew it and turn it into a bolus—a mass of chewed food that’s ready to be swallowed. Without your saliva, food particles wouldn’t properly stick together to form a mass, making it a challenge to swallow food. But aside from that, saliva also contains enzymes that work to break down certain starches while they’re in your mouth. This is recognized as the first step in the digestive process, and it’s mainly thanks to the work of saliva.
6. It helps combat bacterial infections.
There’s a reason why we use the phrase ‘lick your wounds.’ A study found that our saliva contains powerful neutrophils—a type of white blood cell that acts during the body’s immune response. The neutrophils found in spit are said to be far more effective than neutrophils originating from any other part of the body, so it might actually help to lick your wounds.
In the same light, saliva can also help control bacterial colonies in the mouth. Our mouths are home to bacterial flora. But allowing them to flourish without saliva means we put ourselves at risk of infection, bad breath, and decay. So in a nutshell, saliva is a barrier of protection against the threat of bacteria.
7. It protects against enamel erosion.
When we eat, we inadvertently consume certain types of acid that can erode the enamel of our teeth. If we didn’t have saliva, these substances could easily eat through our teeth, causing decay, cavities, and other types of dental damage. Saliva helps to neutralize these acids to protect your teeth against enamel erosion.
8. It also restores eroded enamel.
So maybe you overwhelmed your teeth with too much acid and sugar, compounded by poor oral care habits. So now you’ve got an eroded enamel that’s risking decay. If you start taking better care of your teeth, your saliva will work with you. The components in saliva have been found to help in the remineralization of teeth, allowing you to restore the health of your teeth by repairing the enamel over time.
9. Stress can change your salivary flow rate.
Under certain stressful circumstances, your body will regulate how much energy it uses to help you maintain focus on the most important, impending threat. That’s why it’ll slow down other bodily functions to make sure that whatever fuel you have is used towards the functions that are vital to your current situation. So you’ll notice that your saliva will actually decrease significantly when you’re stressed, leading to a feeling of dry mouth.
10. It helps keep your breath fresh, or at least, decent.
Ever wake up with a bad case of morning breath? Experts attribute that to a decrease in the production of saliva, leading to the temporary increase of bacteria in your mouth. These colonies can stink up your breath, causing that ever familiar odor to waft through the air when we yawn after waking up. Fortunately, that temporary dip in salivary flow rate only happens at night during sleep. When you wake up, you produce enough bacteria to neutralize bacteria and thus keep odors at bay.