Saliva: More than just Drool

Saliva, the watery liquid produced by glands located under the tongue, is an essential component of the digestive process. Saliva is 98% water, so it moistens the mouth and helps compact food into softened particles for easier swallowing. Our teeth and tongue work as a food processor, using saliva as the liquid necessary to create a mixture suitable for the stomach. It’s important to chew your food as much as possible, as taking longer to chew gives the enzymes in saliva time to begin the process of breaking down carbohydrates, a very important part of digestion. Conversely, rapidly swallowing partially chewed food, followed by large quantities of liquids, undermines the function of saliva, so your stomach receives chunks of food rather than smaller particles. By chewing your food thoroughly, you can make sure saliva has a chance to do its job helping the rest of your digestive processes run more smoothly.
Saliva is loaded with useful elements like electrolytes, enzymes, mucus, various antibacterial compounds, as well as beneficial bacteria. Saliva is also slightly alkaline with high concentrations of calcium and phosphate ions, making it a perfect milieu for your teeth.

A small study involving two experiments, recently published in Health,1 tested the ability of saliva to protect tooth enamel from the eroding effects of acidic (low-pH) beverages. Previous studies have shown that saliva has a buffering ability against acid, but this study specifically examined how well saliva protects against dental demineralization caused by acidic drinks such as soda pop and orange juice. The study found that saliva has a continual protective effect as it coats the teeth. The study authors also say their results indicate that the buffering capacity of saliva does not correlate directly to the pH level of the beverages consumed, which means that the risk of demineralization from a particular drink cannot be accurately measured from its pH level alone, as has been standard practice. They also found that saliva, which is saturated with tooth-related minerals, not only provides protection from acidic drinks’ potential to cause demineralization, but it also plays an important role in remineralizing tooth enamel that has already eroded.

First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 183 – 2012
1. Takahashi S et al. Suppressive effects of saliva against enamel demineralization caused by acid beverages. Health. 2011;3(2):742-7.
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