We spit it out when we have a cold or when we taste something that doesn’t agree with us, we find it on our pillows in the morning, and we feel it in our mouths while we brush. This weird substance is always with us but chances are you haven’t given it too much thought. As it turns out, however, saliva plays an incredible role in our oral health, and when it’s not there, it can significantly increase our risk of cavities and gum disease.
What is Saliva?
Saliva comes from a series of glands located under our tongue, around our cheeks, and near our lips. As you may have guessed, most of it is water — about 98 percent to be exact. The rest, however, is pretty diverse. Crammed into about two percent of saliva are electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, calcium, etc., mucus, white blood cells, epithelial cells, antimicrobial agents, and several enzymes.
Why Do We Have it In the First Place?
The most obvious purpose could probably be intuited by experience. Ever tried to swallow a particularly dry piece of bread without water? There’s a reason so many professional hot dog eaters dip their buns in water before swallowing. But saliva’s purpose doesn’t stop at simple lubricant. In fact, it contributes to the health of our mouths and bodies.
Remember the enzymes mentioned above? Turns out there are thousands of different kinds specialized in helping us predigest different types of food. Along with these enzymes, which also dissolve food caught in our teeth, our saliva also contains antimicrobial agents that help to control the population of bacteria. Because as soon as we have too many, especially harmful ones like streptococcus mutans, which preys on starch and sugar, the sooner we get cavities and gum disease.
We’ll Miss it When it’s Gone…
Those who suffer constant dry mouth (xerostomia) due to specific medications or health complications, are all too aware of the problems this causes. Without enough saliva, we’re susceptible to a mess of oral complications like periodontal disease and even tooth loss. Others may have difficulties swallowing food or acid reflux. If you have dry mouth, it’s important to drink the recommended 64oz of water per day, and to brush your teeth multiple times. You may also consider mouthwash, but choose carefully: many mouthwashes contain alcohol, which can dry your mouth out more!
When It’s Time to See a Dentist
The American Dental Association recommends visiting a dentist every six months for a cleaning and checkup. Periodontal disease can become a serious issue if left unchecked, increasing your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. By regularly seeing your dentist, you can ensure that small problems don’t become bigger, more painful ones.
If it’s been awhile since you’ve seen a dentist, it’s time to schedule an appointment. Looking for a general dentist in Greeley, Colorado? Please call Greeley Dental Health at (970) 353-4329 to schedule an appointment, or visit their website for more information.