Be Well Dental

Why you should love your spit.

February 20, 2022
Posted By: Be Well Dental - Dr Bao Nguyen

You’ve probably heard your dentist harp on about saliva as if it is liquid gold, and shows concerns when you have dry mouth. This is because saliva has many qualities that protect our mouth.  

Saliva is derived from blood and like blood, it helps build and maintain the health of our teeth, gums and soft tissues of the mouth. Here are just some of the many functions of saliva:

  • Saliva helps moisten the mouth, enabling us to eat and speak everyday.

  • When we eat, the production of saliva increases to help moisten and breakdown food for ease of swallowing and assist with taste, and even begin the digestive process.

  • Saliva helps keep the mouth clean by washing away food and debris from teeth and gums. It also neutralises the acid that is usually present in the mouth after eating.

  • Saliva has disease fighting substances that help protect teeth from dental decay and other infections.

  • Saliva protects teeth by coating the enamel surfaces with vital minerals like calcium, fluoride and phosphate ions.

  • Saliva creates an environment and contains proteins that help wounds in the mouth heal.

Without saliva, we would not be able to speak, eat or swallow. We would have likely developed dental decay and terrible sores in our mouth and most likely developed bad fungal infections.

Dry mouth is a condition called xerostomia. There is no cure for it, but there are many ways to improve the quality and quantity of our saliva. If you think you have dry mouth, it is best to consult your dentist or GP for advice. 

Some of the causes of dry mouth can include:

  • Medication: hundreds of medications can cause dry mouth as a side effect. The most common ones are those that treat depression, anxiety, and high blood pressure. Antihistamines, muscle relaxants and some pain killers can do the same. People who are on multiple medications are more likely to experience dry mouth

  • Age: we tend to experience dry mouth as we age. Contributing factors include long term health problems and associated medications, poor nutrition, and reduced ability to process medications. Women experience notable dry mouth after menopause. 

  • Cancer therapy: chemotherapy can affect the quality and quantity of saliva. This usually recovers after treatment but would still post a risk to the mouth during the time of treatment. Radiation therapy to the head and neck can cause damage to saliva glands that can be temporary or permanent, causing a reduction in saliva production. It is important where possible to have your dental health in tip top shape prior to cancer therapy, and then continue regular maintenance with a dentist to reduce the risk of mouth diseases. 

  • Smoking/recreational drugs and alcohol

  • Other conditions: Snoring and mouth breathing, autoimmune diseases such as Sjogren’s syndrome, HIV/AIDS, diabetes and Allzheimer’s disease have all shown to contribute to a dry mouth. 

Below are some ways to relieve a dry mouth:

  • Chew sugar free gum

  • Increase your water intake, and sips on water frequently

  • Reduce caffeine intake

  • Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol

  • Don’t use an alcohol containing mouthwash

  • Try over the counter saliva substitute/mouthwash/spray or gel. Brands such as GC Recaldent and Biotene are accessible and have shown to be effective

  • Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air while you sleep

  • Practice breathing through your nose and not your mouth

Dry mouth can be an indicator of underlying systemic diseases. If you have tried different ways to alleviate dry mouth ineffectively, it is important to consult your doctor so that the correct condition can be treated.