What good is saliva?

Most people don’t even think twice about saliva.  It doesn’t have the drama of blood, the sincerity of tears, or the excitement of sweat.  Each day, the oral cavity and teeth are exposed to physical wear from chewing/biting/grinding, chemical insults from the acidic foods we eat, and thousands of bacteria in the mouth.  However, our saliva protects us from this constant onslaught of physical, chemical and biological agents every day.

Although saliva is composed of 99% water, the remaining 1% consists of ions and organic molecules that safeguard the mouth and it is an essential factor in preventing caries.  So what’s in this 1% of saliva and how does it protect the oral cavity?

  • Mucins.  These proteins form a protective coat over the enamel of teeth and the soft tissue of the mouth.  They help lubricate and hydrate the mouth, which assists with swallowing and protection from mechanical insults.
  • Ions.  Calcium and phosphate ions supersaturate saliva and promote the remineralization of demineralized teeth after acid insults.
  • Buffers.  Bicarbonate ions moderate the effects of acid from foods and drinks as well as acid produced by plaque bacteria.
  • Anti-bacterial, -viral, and -fungal properties. Proteins such as antibodies, lysozyme, lactoferrin, histatins, and salivary peroxidase all defend the oral cavity from foreign biological agents.
  • Digestive enzymes. Salivary amylase begins the digestion of carbohydrates before food reaches the stomach.

Not everyone’s saliva is created equal, and the composition of saliva, the rate of salivary flow, and the viscosity of saliva are all determinants in the caries process.  Although many of these factors are out of your control, what is consistent for everyone is that your mouth does not make a lot of saliva at night.  Therefore, it’s important to floss and brush well at night to ensure that there is no plaque and food debris in your mouth while sleeping when you have little protection from your saliva.

If you have any questions about saliva and prevention, please contact Lil Pearls Pediatric Dentistry at (347) 682-5688.


Blog by Lil Pearls Pediatric Dentistry, proudly serving Queens, Forest Hills, Rego Park, Middle Village, Elmhurst, Corona, Kew Gardens, and NYC.  Please call to schedule your appointment and establish your child’s dental home.

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