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Have you ever considered what your mouth would feel like without saliva? 

Just imagine for a moment how dry your mouth would feel…
How would you talk? How would you eat? How would you swallow your food?

How would your teeth protect themselves against dental decay?

It is not often that we stop to think about the importance of saliva.  Yet at, Dentists at Pymble, we know that saliva, or spit, plays an important role in maintaining the health of our mouths, and our bodies too for that matter.  

So, when our salivary flow drops in pH, is reduced or is impaired it can have significant implications… just ask anyone who suffers from a dry mouth!  

That is why the team at, Dentists at Pymble, wanted to write and share this article with you.  We will start by exploring saliva in more detail, looking at the functions and importance of saliva, how the pH level of your saliva can affect your mouth and also discuss the challenges of suffering from a dry mouth.  

PLUS… we will give you our top tips to help keep your saliva in check!

So, what is the purpose of saliva?

Saliva plays a huge role in keeping our mouth healthy… which in turns helps to keep our bodies healthy and functioning.  

Here are some of the important and interesting functions that saliva has:

  • Protects the teeth and soft tissues of the mouth
  • Helps to keep the mouth lubricated and moist
  • Has the ability to buffer and neutralise acids
  • Helps to cleanse away food particles and debris
  • Can help restore lost minerals (remineralise) to the enamel  
  • Helps to repair damaged tissue
  • Helps to control bacterial and fungal colonisation 
  • Helps us to chew and swallow  
  • The enzymes in saliva help in the digestion of foods
  • Enhances the taste receptors
  • Helps facilitate and enable speech

 

Where does saliva come from?

Salivary fluid is an exocrine secretion. This means that it is a substance secreted through a duct. 

In our mouth, saliva is produced from our salivary glands, located in the head and neck.  

Saliva is a clear, viscous, watery fluid, which is commonly referred to as spit.

90% of saliva is secreted by our major salivary glands.  The three paired major salivary glands are known as the:

  • Submandibular located underneath the jaw, producing around 65% of the secretions 
  • Sublingual which produces around 5-7%, which are underneath the tongue
  • Parotid which is the largest, located below and in front of the ear canal, which produce around 20% of salivary secretions

While the remainder of our saliva is produced by the hundreds of other little minor salivary glands scattered around our mouth.

 

What is saliva made up of?

Saliva is 99% water, with the remaining 1% containing a variety of different electrolytes, enzymes and proteins. It is these compounds that work together and are responsible for the various functions which can be attributed to saliva.

 

How much saliva is produced each day?

The daily production of saliva varies from person to person.  However, in the mouth of a healthy person, an average of 1-1.5 litres of saliva is produced every day!

But… did you know that there are two types of saliva which can be produced by the body?

The first type is the at-rest saliva.  The at-rest saliva is the continuous small amount of saliva that coats your mouth and is being produced when we are resting and sleeping.

The second type of saliva, is known as the stimulated saliva.  This saliva is produced in response to the presence of a stimulus, such as food, or even sometimes the smell of food.

Stimulated saliva contributes to 80-90% of our daily salivary production!

 

What is the pH of saliva?

At our practice, you may hear us sometimes say ‘the pH’ and for most people they will remember back to their school days and know what we are talking about.   However, if you are not familiar with the term pH, it refers to a scale which can be used to specify how acidic or alkaline (basic) a substance or solution is. 

So… if a substance tests below a pH of 7 it is more on the acidic side.  While something testing above 7 means that it is more alkaline.  

For example, lemon juice and vinegar are below 7 making them more acidic.  Pure water has a pH of 7, which is in the middle of the scale.  While, seawater and antacids test above 7, so they are more alkaline.7  

So, back to the first question…. What is the pH of saliva?

Well, the normal pH for saliva is between 6.2 and 7.6.

The reason why we bring up the pH is because it is important in understanding the decay process.  So, let’s find out why.

 

Why is the pH of saliva important?

When our mouth is exposed to acids it can alter or change the pH. 

For example, when you drink a can of soft drink it can drop the pH of the mouth to below 5.5!  This can cause damage to our teeth through a process known as demineralisation.

Demineralisation means that minerals are being lost or dissolved.  This unsettles or compromises the strength of the tooth and it can cause irreversible damage to the teeth if it is not stopped.  

Demineralisation is one of the earliest stages in the decay process.

So, when our mouth is exposed to acids and sugars, the saliva first helps by trying to neutralise, buffer and cleanse the mouth. This is why stimulated saliva is important.  

But then the saliva does something else pretty special… 

It starts to help remineralise the teeth.

Remineralisation is the mouth’s natural defence to try and repair or reverse the damage caused to the teeth during the demineralisation process. It does this by utilising the calcium and phosphate ions found in our saliva.

At, Dentists at Pymble, we think that the remineralisation process which our saliva does, is one its best features!

 

How is the pH of saliva measured?

Finding out the pH of your saliva is quite quick and simple.  

All you need is a pH testing strip which has some of your saliva on it. Once the strip comes into contact with your saliva it will change colour based on how acidic or alkaline your saliva is.  Using the colour chart, you can then match your results with the chart to determine your saliva’s pH.  

We often recommend that you try testing your saliva at different times to see how the results may vary.  For example, avoid eating for two hours then eat something and compare your results.  Was there a difference?

We have a saliva testing kit!  So, if you are worried that your saliva may be acidic then just ask and we can test your saliva for you.  We also commonly use the saliva testing kit when we notice that patients have an unexplained increase in the number of new holes in their teeth.  However, the saliva testing kit goes beyond just looking at the pH, our kit also allows us to assess your salivary flow rate.  

 

What can you do to maintain your saliva’s pH?

To help protect your mouth from the damaging effects of acids and to help restore the mouth to its normal pH, here are a few tips that we commonly recommend to patients:

  • Limit sugary and acidic drinks, or have them through a straw and with meals 
  • Rinse thoroughly with water after food and drinks 
  • Avoid snacking between meals
  • Chew sugar-free or a xylitol-containing chewing gum to stimulate the saliva
  • Wait at least 60 minutes after any acid attacks until you brush your teeth – this is because the acid can soften your enamel and you can damage the enamel by brushing
  • Talk to your oral health professional about other available dental products to help the remineralisation process, such as GC Toothmousse.

 

What happens when the salivary glands do not work properly?

At our practice we find that the importance of saliva tends to go unnoticed by people… well, that is until there is a problem with the saliva flow or function.  

As we mentioned already, saliva is critical for maintaining and persevering the health of our mouth.  When salivary flow reduces or diminishes it can cause the mouth to become dry.  Which people often refer to as simply as a dry mouth. 

A dry mouth can have a significant impact on our everyday functioning and can greatly impact on our quality of life.

This means that suddenly, simple things we do every day, like chewing, speaking and swallowing becomes difficult.  Another consequence is that constant feeling of thirst, that just cannot be quenched.

But also, now there is an increased risk of dental decay, oral infections, bad breath (halitosis), ulcers and feelings of a burning mouth. But for chronic suffers of a dry mouth it can also affect nutrition and have psychological implications.

 

What causes that dry mouth feeling?

Hyposalivation is the physiological condition causing reduced or decreased salivary flow. Whilst, the most common disorder of the salivary gland is a condition known as xerostomia. The difference is that xerostomia is the subjective feeling of dryness in the mouth.

However, identifying the cause of a dry mouth can be difficult.  

This is because diminished or reduced salivary flow can be caused by multiple things.  This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Dehydration 
  • Medication
  • Autoimmune diseases and chronic illnesses 
  • A consequence of radiation and/or chemotherapy 
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Stress and anxiety 
  • Lifestyle and diet


What should you do if you are suffering from a dry mouth?

If you feel there has been changes in your salivary function or flow, there are few things which you can do.  

Firstly, you should start by speaking with your oral health professional or your general health practitioner.  This will help to identify if there are any underlying medical reasons which may be causing the issue.  They will also evaluate any medications you are on and your medical history, to see if there is anything relevant which could be a contributing factor. 

Other things which we often recommend patients try include:

  • Limiting the intake of alcohol and caffeine 
  • Increasing your water intake 
  • Sipping frequently on water
  • Chewing sugar-free gum to stimulate saliva 
  • Avoid alcohol-containing mouth rinses 

If these tips don’t help, then your oral health professional can speak to you about saliva substitutes and products designed specifically for people who experience dry mouth.  As did you know there are specially formulated toothpastes and gels to help lubricate the soft tissues to help manage the symptoms of a dry mouth?

Plus also your oral health professional will also be able to more thoroughly evaluate your symptoms and discuss ways to help reduce your risk of dental disease while you are experiencing a dry mouth. 

At, Dentists at Pymble, we think that it is safe to say that saliva plays a significant role in maintaining the health of our mouth and our overall wellbeing.  But remember that changes in the pH of your saliva or changes in the flow rate can cause lots of problems and it can increase your risk of dental disease.  So, make sure that you follow our tips to help look after your saliva and your whole mouth health.

But don’t forget that, if you have any questions or concerns then we welcome you to contact the clinic on 02 9488 7555.
As we are here to help you!

References

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  3. Furgeson D,  Pitts E. Saliva’s Role in Remineralization. Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. 2018;16;5:26,28-29. 
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  8. Hans R, Thomas S, Garka B, Dagli R J, Hans M K. Effects of carious sugary beverages on salivary pH, flow rate and oral clearance rate amongst adults. Scientifica;2016;5027283. Doi http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2016/5027283.
  9. Featherstone JDB. Dental caries: a dynamic disease process. Australian Dent Journal 2008;53:286-291.  https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1834-7819.2008.00064.x
  10. Queensland Government. Health teeth for life: dry mouth. 2008. URL:‘https://www.health.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0023/154076/htfl_dry_mouth_v2.pdf’. Accessed 23 October 2019.
  11. Sachs H. Investigation not xerostomia and statement of principles. 2018. URL:‘https://www.ada.org.au/News-Media/News-and-Release/Submissions/Investigation-into-Xerostomia-and-Statement-of-Pri/ADA-response-to-DVA_IM-Xerostomia.aspx’. Accessed 24 October 2019.