Saliva, commonly known as spit, is mostly water with a complex mix of proteins, minerals, vitamins, hormones, and other substances. The salivary glands produce, on average, about a quart of spit a day which over a year is enough to fill two bathtubs. It produces the most in the afternoon, and less in the evening. Saliva production decreases when you are sleeping or dehydrated and usually as you get older.
Saliva is the mouths primary defense against tooth decay. Bacteria in plaque generates acids that attack tooth minerals causing decay. Saliva helps prevent this acid formation. It washes away the food particles and sugars that produce the acids when broken down. Amylase is an enzyme that breaks down starches into sugars to prevent carbohydrates from blocking saliva flow. The calcium and phosphate ions in the saliva’s mineral salts reverse the decay process by slowing demineralization of tooth structure and promoting re-mineralization of tooth enamel. Mucin glycoproteins make spit sticky. They stick to the teeth and help protect them from bacteria and acids which can cause cavities.
Saliva lubricates the mouth, protects teeth and gums, and helps regulate the acid balance of the mouth. It helps maintain the environment in which tooth minerals can be replaced. Cavities and gum disease can result from having a chronic dry mouth. Saliva has enzymes that break down starches and fats to begin the digestive process. It lubricates the food you are eating which enables you to swallow it. Taste buds only recognize food molecules that have dissolved in saliva.
Saliva can be tested to monitor smoking, alcohol intake, and drug use. It is also useful in diagnosing disease. For example, there are FDA-approved saliva tests to detect antibodies to HIV and the hepatitis C virus. Soon diagnostic saliva tests could become as common as blood tests.
Now you realize how important spit is to your dental health. If you have a chronic dry mouth call New Town Dentist to make an appointment.