Saliva is Essential & More Important Than You Think
Have you ever had such a dry mouth that you start choking on food? Taken allergy medications or received allergy shots and had a negative reaction? Have sinus congestion that causes you to mouth breathe?
Having experienced all the scenarios above myself, and several more, it created an interest in me to investigate more into the essentials of saliva. There are many undiscovered things in our lives that can cause xerostomia, inhibit the production of saliva, increase the risk of demineralization and slow the momentum of alleviating the nuances associated with having a dry mouth.
What is Xerostomia?
Xerostomia (commonly referred to as “dry mouth”) has many etiologies and is a condition that causes a reduction in salivary secretion or reduction in salivary flow and has also been referred to as salivary hypofunction, hyposalivation, and reduced salivary secretion. The term xerostomia is derived from the Greek words xeros meaning “dry” and stoma meaning “mouth”. This condition can have a significant effect on the body’s overall well-being as well as in your quality of life to include: inflammation of the tongue and oral mucosa, halitosis, stomatitis, increased caries risk, dysphagia, speech interference, increased risk of a medical emergency from a person choking, and may even reduce someone’s appetite because of the pain and/or discomfort associated with reduced salivary flow.
Dry mouth is something to consider for your overall health regardless if medication induced or from systemic conditions. There are many circumstances that can contribute to xerostomia such as medications, mouth breathing, dehydration, radiation treatments, and autoimmune diseases such as Sjogren’s syndrome however, there are products that can mitigate this oral impairment to improve one’s salivary flow and decrease their risk of caries. In regards to autoimmune diseases, Sjogren’s syndrome affects the salivary glands and tear production that leads to xerostomia and keratoconjunctivitis sicca, aka dry eyes.
Why is saliva essential?
Saliva, produced by three major salivary glands and many minor salivary glands, consists of a composition of a variety of electrolytes such as potassium, calcium, bicarbonate, and phosphates. Saliva is essential because it helps lubricate the mouth, contains an enzyme such as amylase, also called ptyalin, that helps break down the food we ingest into simpler sugars such as maltose and dextrin, assists in the repair and remineralization of early tooth decay, and helps neutralize buffered acids to return pH level to a normal value. Just because you have a lack of salivary flow, that isn’t always a negative thing because the quality of saliva is just as important.
According to Dr. Brian Novy, if a patient presents with calculus, he states that the patient oddly enough has a really good quality of saliva because the saliva has a higher buffering capacity, contains ions, and is considered basic. Good quality saliva mineralizes the plaque and calcifies it because there are so many excess ions in the saliva. On the flip side, a patient that doesn’t have any calculus on their dentition, you might think they have really good homecare. However, he indicates that the saliva is actually acidic and breaks down the calculus which eventually demineralizes the teeth and increases the production of acidogenic bacteria that contribute to dental caries.
Saliva has numerous benefits other than protecting the teeth and oral tissues. Saliva has become a sampling measure for medical diagnosis and research in systemic conditions. Salivary diagnostics have been used for more than 2000 years and are also able to detect oral cancer and pathogenic periodontal pathogens that can affect the health of your heart, brain, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive organs.
As healthcare providers, we need to assess our patient’s saliva, educate them on the importance of their saliva and help them find a product they will use on a daily basis to alleviate their symptoms to reduce their risk of caries and other associated complications.
For patients suffering from xerostomia, you can recommend products such as Biotene, Xylimelts, Moisyn, Act for Dry Mouth, Colgate Hydris, GUM Hydral, Spry, MI Paste, OraVital, Basic Bites, StellaLife, and many others.
If you want to learn more about reducing xerostomia and reducing the risk of dental caries, check out these episodes & TIPisodes on A Tale of Two Hygienists!
TIPisode with Dr. Brian Novy https://www.ataleoftwohygienists.com/listen/saliva-with-dr-brian-novy-tipisode/
TIPisode with Dr. Pam Maragliano-Muniz
Ep. 72 with Dr. Jim Hyland https://www.ataleoftwohygienists.com/listen/a-tale-of-two-hygienists-episode-72-dr-jim-hyland-and-oravital/