The salivary glands are probably one of the most overlooked parts of your digestive system. But they play a significant role in oral health, which you might know.
The saliva and salivary gland is not something you probably spend much time thinking about. But you would be surprised that every moment of every day affects your health. The salivary gland secretes saliva, vital for a healthy mouth, good digestion, and more.
Are you like most people who think saliva is not something that you should spend time on? Still, you should know that this clear liquid that many take for granted can have a significant impact on your oral health.
Did you know that oral severe health issues might arise when there is not enough saliva in your mouth? As infections and dental cavities are more likely to develop.
Here we take a look at the location of these glands, how they produce saliva. In addition, we discuss why they help break down your food in the mouth and prevent cavities as well.
What do the Salivary Glands Do?
Saliva is secreted in your mouth from three major glands located on the mouth’s cheeks, palate, and floor. The saliva these glands secrete is liquid-filled with minerals. The fluid helps reduce the acidity in your mouth. As a result, this process keeps your tooth enamel from wearing and forming tooth cavity.
The slippery texture of saliva can lubricate food as you chew so that it can pass through your esophagus and into your stomach more smoothly. The saliva secretion also contains enzymes that contribute to the early digestion of your food.
So, when the fluid is mixed in your mouth as you chew, it can soften and break down the more complex substances your body needs to store as energy.
Salivary Glands Secrete Saliva
Saliva is a secretion consisting of nearly 99 percent water. The other components of saliva include various mucus, proteins, electrolytes, minerals, and amylase, an enzyme that helps break down starches.
Saliva is produced by small salivary glands located in various parts of your mouth. Once the saliva secretion is produced, it gets transported to your oral cavity through small passageways or ducts. The sets of glands that majorly produce saliva are located below the mandible, on the sides of your jaws, and below the tongue.
Your body can easily stimulate these salivary glands to produce greater amounts of saliva. Your mouth can make more and more saliva as you chew or eat. In addition, your body might also produce more saliva at the thought of food. It is where the term “mouth-watering” originated.
Salivary Glands Protect Your Oral Health
When your mouth produces a sufficient level of saliva, your teeth remain better protected. Probably because the saliva helps to wash away the food particles and debris from your teeth. As you know, the primary cause of damage to the teeth is tooth decay, and your saliva helps reduce the process.
Tooth decay occurs because of bacterial acid when you eat more sugary food. The acid attacks your tooth enamel, dissolving vital minerals.
Acid has a low pH lower than 7. Alkaline substances, on the other hand, have a higher pH of more than 7. The human saliva includes an alkaline compound called bicarbonate, which is responsible for balancing the pH of your oral cavity. This balance helps minimize the damage from oral acids.
Like everything else in life, many people also worry about their saliva. Saliva produced by the salivary glands, in particular, has a significant impact on all aspects of oral health. Hence the underlying question, of course, should be – what is the function of the salivary glands?
The secret to strong teeth, complete digestion, and fresh breath – all revolve around this complex fluid.
Importance of Saliva in Your Mouth
1 Saliva Is Antimicrobial
Do you know that saliva displays antimicrobial abilities? It breaks down the cell walls of most of the oral bacteria to prevent the microbes from growing. These microbes cause plaque and tartar formation, leading to gum disease in the long run.
2 Saliva Can Remineralize Tooth Enamel
The acidic food in your mouth dissolves the minerals, such as phosphorus and calcium, from the tooth enamel. Saliva can help the minerals reassimilate with the teeth. Meaning remineralization of your teeth increases in the presence of fluoride. Moreover, it draws the displaced minerals back to the enamel for healthy teeth.
3 Saliva Lubricates the Soft Tissues
In addition, saliva lubricates the soft tissues of your mouth to keep them more comfortable. In a healthy mouth, this lubrication remains consistent because small amounts of saliva are continually produced.
4 Saliva Dilutes Sugar
Last but not least, the main fuel of many oral bacteria is the simple sugars you eat. Saliva can help dilute these sugars, making them less available for oral microbes.
The Function of The Salivary Glands
Salivary glands exist to produce saliva. In simple terms, saliva production requires specialized glands because of its unique composition. Saliva also needs to be distributed through the mouth. So the glands need to facilitate that as well.
Surprisingly, the human body produces as much as 4 pints of saliva every day. That adds up to half a gallon of saliva per person. Surprisingly, the production is ongoing, but it does fluctuate.
During the night, your mouth produces the lowest saliva. This is good because you surely would not want to wake up to swallow that saliva. The production is highest in the afternoon between your lunch and dinner.
The moment you smell food, see food or eat food, your body releases the chemical signals in the brain, which automatically increases saliva production. Even if you hear someone talking about food, it causes your mouth to water. It is because that is exactly what occurs.
What is your saliva composed of? It is primarily water with a few drops of enzymes, mucus, proteins, and salts. There are two enzymes, in particular, that work to help with the digestion of more complex carbohydrates chains.
Amalyase breaks down starches into maltose, which is a form of sugar in the food you eat. Of course, your body likes sugar, so do your teeth, but they are negatively affected by excess sugar.
In the form of sodium bicarbonate, salts are present in the saliva work to lower the pH of acids from foods such as orange juice and lemon juice. This salt protects the tooth enamel from being slowly melted off.
So the human mouth has an onboard chemical burn suppression system – just one of the unsung human saliva facts. Finally, to enhance its properties, bacteria-killing proteins enter the mix. These enzymes, such as peroxidase and lysozyme, stop infections and help prevent bad breath.
The placement of salivary glands is such that they facilitate rapid deployment and distribution through the mouth. The salivary gland facts vary widely because of the different mouth shapes and sizes.
Salivary glands come in the form of six major glands and hundreds of minor glands. The major glands come in pairs. The largest gland is located along your jaw just in front of the ears. These are called parotid glands and majorly secrete proteins.
The next set of glands are located on the bottom of the mouth. Known as submandibular glands, they create mostly water and mucus.
The final set of glands are located near your front teeth under the tongue. These are also submandibular glands that create more mucus than other glands in your mouth.
In addition, your saliva travels through a series of small tubes. These tubes, called salivary ducts, are responsible for transporting saliva into the mouth, throat, and lips.
Improper Functioning of Salivary Glands
The poor functioning of salivary glands can negatively impact your oral health in two major ways firstly if there is an issue with the salivary gland system itself. As a result, it might cause pain and complications when eating and drinking. The second issue arises when the benefits of saliva taper off. Meaning nearly 12 percent of adults have experienced problems and pains with their mouth.
1 Salivary Glands Problems
When the flow from the glands is interrupted, it might create blockages. In the long run, blockages take the form of saliva stones. A type of calcium crystal that might form from slow saliva movement. These painful stones might block ducts and cause swelling.
The best saluting is to stay well hydrated as it often prevents slow saliva movement and overly thick composition. An increase in water intake often helps push saliva and break up or move the stones. Surgery may be necessary for serious conditions.
2 Too High/Low Saliva Problems
Too much saliva can cause excessive drooling. This is not just unattractive in a social environment, but drooling builds a link from the environment outside of your mouth into the mouth. The link allows pathogens that need to travel through a liquid medium to enter your mouth easily.
Unfortunately, an imbalance of saliva could even result in damaging the mouth itself. The condition can lead to inflammation, causing irritation, further exposing the mouth to sores and lesions.
These mouth effects could lead to health issues throughout the body. A lack of saliva in your mouth will make your food digestion slower and less complete. Meaning you get fewer nutrients out of the food you eat. In addition, you will experience a more difficult time breaking down substances, which will require you to consume more food to maintain the same level of nutrients.
Lack of saliva will lead to more tooth decay and gum disease. Moreover, the bacteria will also spread more quickly, causing bleeding gums, bad breath, and a swollen tongue. In addition to being uncomfortable, these issues will open your body to infection.
3 The Lack of Saliva Causes Dry Mouth
Some people even have a condition called dry mouth due to less production of saliva. Dry mouth, also called xerostomia, might be related to other systemic conditions like diabetes. Other factors that might lead to dry mouth include certain medications and radiation treatments.
According to the American Dental Association or ADA, some medications could also lower saliva production. Fortunately, your dentist can prescribe a product or medication to help relieve the symptoms and help prevent cavities.
We at Dr Amal Medical Center care about the health of your mouth and want you to be well informed. Our experienced dental team will encourage you to check our ongoing blogs with relevant information about your teeth, gums, and oral health.
There is a wide range of factors that can adversely affect your dental health. If you have a specific question or concern about your dental health, contact us for more information or to set up an appointment.