People don’t normally think of saliva supporting the immune system, but you’ll be surprised to learn that saliva plays an important role in a variety of physiological processes.
Function and Benefits of Saliva
Salivary glands are located in various parts of the body such as the tongue, lips, cheeks, and palate. There are four types of glands that produce and secrete saliva, which is primarily used to moisten food and turn it into a bolus that allows it to be swallowed easily. Enzymes in saliva also help with breaking down food and aids in digestion.
Another important component in salivary glands is plasma B cells, which produce the antibody IgA. This antibody binds to the lining of your oral cavity and acts as a barrier, keeping dangerous bacteria from being ingested by the body. Saliva also contains lactoferrin and lyzozyme, both of which inhibit the growth of bacteria in the mouth and act as another first line of defense against bacteria entering the body via the mouth. In addition, saliva aids in the breakdown of remnant food molecules in the body that could cause bacterial infections that damage teeth and increase the risk of cavities and gum disease.
Other functions that saliva performs that are critical to overall well-being are maintaining pH levels in the mouth to prevent teeth damage and reverse any demineralization that has occured on tooth enamel to maintain its strength.
Limits of Saliva
That being said, this doesn’t mean saliva can kill bacteria and prevent the transmission of diseases or viruses. Kissing or sharing toothbrushes can enable the spread of disease, so it’s important not to view saliva’s immune benefits as an excuse not to enact proper hygiene practices if you suspect you’re ill.
If you suspect you have a dry mouth from a lack of saliva production, try consuming more water, chewing gum, and in extreme cases using artificial saliva spray. Be aware that the latter doesn’t contain any of saliva’s useful enzymes and only helps keep your mouth moist as a temporary measure.
If you suspect you have a lack of saliva and are experiencing dry mouth, seek consultation from an orthodontist immediately.