Saliva has a number of important roles within the body and many of these benefit your oral health.

What is saliva?
Saliva is a watery fluid, which is secreted by the salivary glands, which are located in the throat, near the front teeth and at the bottom of the mouth. Saliva is clear and it is primarily composed of water; it is secreted into the mouth when the salivary glands are stimulated; this occurs when you chew your food or you suck on something.

Why is saliva important?
Saliva is important for many reasons; it helps to keep your mouth moist, it enables you to chew and break down your food properly and it helps to fight off harmful bacteria, which contribute to bad breath.
Saliva is also very important for oral health; when you chew your food, saliva is released into the mouth and this not only helps your digestion, but also removes food debris and bacteria from your mouth to prevent the formation of plaque, the most common cause of cavities and gum disease. Saliva also contains minerals, which are very important for maintaining strong, healthy tooth enamel; the enamel is the hard protective layer of the tooth.

Saliva also helps to hold dentures in place and prevent them from slipping.

What happens when there is a shortage of saliva?
On average, you produce around 2-4 pints of saliva per day, but dry mouth, a condition, which is associated with a lack of saliva, is very common. Dry mouth, also known as xerostomia, can be caused by many different factors, from health conditions and smoking, to taking certain types of medication and dehydration. Without saliva, the mouth becomes dry and uncomfortable and bacteria, which are harmful to the body, are able to thrive. The mouth can also become inflamed as a result of a lack of saliva and the build-up of bacteria increases the risk of dental diseases and bad breath.

Dry mouth can also be a problem for denture wearers, as the dentures are held in place by the natural suction of the gums.

A shortage of saliva also makes eating difficult; if you are unable to chew and grind your food properly, this makes it hard to eat certain foods and you may find that you have to stick to soft foods, which do not require a lot of chewing.

What should I do if I have a dry mouth?
If your mouth is dry and there is not enough saliva, try and increase the amount of fluid you take in and chew sugar-free chewing gum to try and stimulate the salivary glands. If dry mouth persists, see your doctor or dentist, as there may be a medical cause, which requires treatment. It is possible to moisten your mouth using artificial saliva; this may be recommended for people who have health problems that contribute to dry mouth, such as Parkinson’s disease, diabetes or Sjogren’s syndrome. For more information on how the production of saliva can help brace wearers visit the official braces website.