As you already know, this blog is dedicated to xerostomia or dry mouth and we talk nonstop about how important saliva is. But, what is saliva? What is its composition?
We have already said several times that saliva facilitates eating, tasting, talking and is essential for the mouth to stay in good condition. Saliva also moisturizes the mouth, keeps the oral mucous membranes clean and remineralizes teeth preventing dental cavities. Besides, saliva has a great predictive value and may be used to diagnose some diseases.
Saliva, much more than water
Saliva is a clear, odorless, viscous liquid produced by the salivary glands. It has a pH range from 6.5 to 7.
Over 99% of the saliva is water and the remaining 1% is made of essential substances for digestion and oral health as proteins, electrolytes, enzymes, or amino acids, among others.
More than once you may have noticed that the wounds in the mouth heal faster than those produced in other parts of the body. And these wounds disappear without any scarring.
Saliva has coagulants, bactericides, antimicrobial and antifungal properties. Saliva also has a great capacity for cell regeneration.
It is not uncommon either to put your injured hand or sore finger in your mouth. Why do we do this?
This involuntary gesture is more scientific than it seems. In 2006, researchers at the Pasteur Institute discovered opiorphin, a substance in the saliva which is 6 times more potent than morphine for pain relief.
Functions and components of saliva
99% of saliva is water, which allows us to taste food and begins digestion. The other 1% is composed of organic and inorganic substances acting together
Water helps with phonation, lubrication, tasting, preparing food for swallowing, beginning digestion and mouth cleansing.
Immunoglobulins, proteins and enzymes act against bacteria and have anti-infective function.
Salivary proteins and mucins serve to clean and attack microorganisms. They also contribute to the metabolism of dental plaque and the integrity of teeth.
Mucins are flexible proteins that give saliva a viscous appearance useful for covering and protecting the teeth and gums. Mucins also help form chewed food into a rounded mass, known as a bolus, and facilitate swallowing.
Saliva also contains lactoferrin which play an important role against bacterial injuries.
Saliva contains digestive enzymes, like ptyalin which helps with digestion of food, specifically carbohydrates.
Lysozyme is an enzyme with an antimicrobial action that destroys bacteria in food and protects against cavities and infections.
Saliva also contains sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, bicarbonate and phosphate.
Bicarbonate, phosphates and urea have a “buffer” function. They neutralize the acidity of the food and protect the mouth from bacterial corrosion.
Calcium, phosphate and proteins (acting jointly) counteract the acids of the mouth, control enamel demineralization and help build tooth enamel.
Saliva contains histatin, an antimicrobial peptide that acts as a cell regenerator. It accelerates wound healing, has a bactericidal function and inhibits the development of yeast and bacteria.
As mentioned a few lines above, saliva also contains a very effective analgesic pain killer substance, opiorphin.