One of the most important parts of oral hygiene is one that is easy to overlook - saliva. You might not think about it very much, but it is an important part of maintaining a healthy mouth.
To properly understand the role saliva plays, it's vital to know what it actually is. Mostly, it's water, which makes up 99 percent of the substance. The final percent is a combination of electrolytes, mucus, proteins, white blood cells and antimicrobial agents. It is secreted by the salivary glands, which consist of the Parotid glands, the submandibular glands and the sublingual glands, in addition to hundreds of other minor ones.
This secretion makes its way into the mouth, where it serves a great number of useful functions. It helps begin the process of breaking down food, and aids in swallowing. It improves the experience of eating, by enhancing taste. Saliva is even also an important part of enabling speech, as it provides essential lubrication for the moving oral tissues. If you've ever had difficulty articulating because of a dry mouth, you are familiar with this function.
Saliva also plays an important role in the maintaining of oral health. The proteins and minerals found in it protect the enamel in your teeth, which keeps them from decaying and helps to prevent gum disease. It can also help to destroy harmful germs in your mouth, including those which cause bad breath. By helping you to chew and swallow food, it also reduces the amount of food waste stuck in your mouth, which can allow bacteria to thrive.
Because of all of the crucial functions, dentists pay special attention to saliva production. Too little saliva results in a dry mouth, which is sometimes referred to as "xerostomia," (the subjective sensation of a dry mouth). This issue can make the tissues in the mouth expand and swell, including the tongue and gums. This creates an environment where germs can thrive, and increases the onset of tooth decay and periodontal disease. Prolonged dry mouth is common in older adults, and can have a number of causes, such as dehydration, cigarette smoking or certain diseases such as diabetes.
If you are worried about your saliva production, or have experienced symptoms of dry mouth, consult a medical professional right away. There are a number of interventions that can be prescribed to alleviate the issue.