SALIVA: THE MOUTH'S OWN HOME GUARD

The number of aids to help keep the mouth clean and protected has increased dramatically over the past few decades.

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However so have the attacks on the teeth and gums by our diet and lifestyle 'advances' over the same period.

As useful and necessary as they are to help keep our teeth for a lifetime and to minimise the risk from gum and bone recession, our mouth has its own protective agent - saliva.

In humans, saliva is made up of 99.5% water; the remainder is a mixture of electrolytes, antibacterial agents and mucus. It serves a number of functions, aiding digestion by starting the breakdown of starches into absorbable sugars, the swallowing of food by coating it with a lubricant that allows safe passage into the gut and the regulation of acid pH and the balance of flora in the mouth.

To 'lick ones wounds' is to make them better and speed up the healing process and research shows there is truth in this old saying.

Saliva production by the salivary glands located beneath the tongue , is brought on by hunger, putting food in the mouth and chewing. It is one argument why chewing gum is actually very good for oral hygiene as it stimulates increased saliva output which aids in remineralisation of the tooth enamel.

Finally, it also helps in the process of tasting our food as it acts as the medium between what we eat and our taste buds.

A condition known as xerostomia is the result of a lack or deficit of saliva production and can be very painful as the mouth suffers from abrasions from food, particularly dry food, and also results in increased incidence of periodontitis (gum disease), due to the runaway effect that opportunistic bacteria causes in the mouth. This condition can be caused by stress, and the side effects of some medication.

A heavy nights drinking alcohol also produces dry mouth and is why our breath smells rotten the morning after!