Brush your teeth twice a day. Floss at least once. Avoid sugary foods and drinks. Don’t chew ice or other hard foods. These are essential rules for a good oral health routine. Many people are already familiar with these guidelines and why we must follow them in some way or another. However, most people may not think about the function of the individual components of their mouths.
As you go through your day-to-day activities, you may never consider the role of saliva and how essential it is for your health. You would have extreme difficulties speaking, chewing, and swallowing without saliva. Chewing and, especially, swallowing would actually be dangerous without the help of saliva. Therefore, it is vital for your health overall.
What Is It Made Of?
The majority of saliva is composed of water—like most of your body. However, it is also made of proteins, enzymes, and other minerals required for eating and digestion. A chemical called mucin is responsible for lubricating your mouth. Mucin also makes it safe to swallow foods. Mucin and enzymes break down your food. This allows you to digest and absorb nutrients effectively. Saliva even contains electrolytes—magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium—that harden and protects the enamel.
The role that saliva plays in your health is essential. For example, not producing enough saliva, a condition known as dry mouth, disrupts your eating functions. In that case, you should contact your dentist before you experience any severe side effects.
What Does Saliva Do?
Because of its chemical makeup, saliva has many functions within the body.
Saliva naturally protects teeth against tooth decay. Bacteria live in your mouth and feed on the foods you ingest. This bacteria will create acids that break down the enamel on your teeth as it consumes the sugar from your diet. Saliva helps to neutralize these acids and wash away any remaining food particles. If food particles are left behind, it increases the bacteria in your mouth, which continues the cycle.
Your mouth needs to stay wet to remain healthy. With the aid of saliva, your mouth can keep the right amount of moisture. If your mouth is too dry, you risk developing cavities or gum disease. While teeth need to be in a moist environment to stay healthy, the proteins in saliva also help to form a protective coating on your teeth. Additionally, these proteins help stimulate the taste receptors on your tongue so that you can fully taste your foods.
Without saliva, it would be nearly impossible for you to chew and swallow your food. You break down your food into smaller pieces as you chew. While your teeth are grinding your food, saliva chemically breaks it down. Saliva coats your food in water and mucin, which makes it easier to swallow. It allows food to slide down your esophagus without issue.
Once you have swallowed your food, saliva enzymes aid digestion. This allows you to absorb the nutrients in your food thoroughly. If you don’t produce enough saliva, you can become malnourished. As a result, you cannot fully digest your food or safely swallow it, making it difficult to fuel your body properly.