• July 24, 2012
  • Dr. Catherine-Anne Walsh

SALIVA…you know, that clear, kind of stringy fluid that seems to be keeping you fastened to your pillow at night should you decide to float away in the middle of some amazing dream… and then no matter how glamorous your awakening, manages to ruin the picture by hanging off the corner of your mouth…That somewhat unpleasant component of a kiss…especially the first few in our lives… ‘spit’…yes, that thing!

Healthy people produce an average of 0.6 litres of saliva per day! Most of it is produced in the mid afternoon and only very little is produced at night (this may come as surprise to you, droolers). Sounds like a lot, but can you imagine what life would be like without it? Let’s just say that the fabulous dream which threatened to lift you off your spit-soaked pillow would become a dry nightmare of you crawling through the hot sands of the Sahara desert and finally reaching an oasis with a crystal clear water hole, only to find your legs have become too weak and you simply can’t make that last half a meter to the water…which…you…must…drink…to…survive! You wake up gasping for air and reaching over for a glass of water.

Without saliva, that first kiss, when you ended up having to ‘mop up’ your face with a towel, well, could have ended up a lot worse- imagine sticking to the person you tried to kiss, having to peel yourself off them…. literally! Ouch!

Dentists, we have a love-hate relationship with saliva. Yes, we hate it when we are in the middle of our work and your salivary glands suddenly remember what’s for lunch and decide to give your mouth and us, working inside it, a big spray of excitement. Yes, that filling may get ruined if your saliva is really pumping that day. However, we also love saliva. It has some amazing properties and it is extremely important for our health. Unfortunately, its benefits and importance are often ignored until it’s gone or diminished.

 WHY WE LOVE SALIVA (OK, not as much as the person who designed that Tshirt):

  • It protects teeth from erosion and tooth decay
  • It helps re-mineralize (harden) teeth
  • It protects soft tissues in the mouth from infections and harmful acids
  • It begins digestion of foods in the mouth
  • It acts as a solvent to allow taste
  • It helps with swallowing food and helps transport nutrients
  • It contains most components found in the blood and reflects the state of your body’s health- emotional, hormonal, nutritional, etc. so it can be used for early detection of many diseases

WHAT IS XEROSTOMIA AND WHY DOES IT HAPPEN:

Xerostomia is a subjective complaint of a dry mouth. For most people who notice a dry mouth, this perception only happens once their salivary glands have reduced the amount of saliva they produce to a mere half of their usual output.

According to some studies, about 20% of the general population may suffer from Xerostomia and in some groups this number can be as high as 40% (elderly people on multiple medications and medically compromised people).

 Xerostomia can be a result of:

  • Dehydration (through illness or exercise)
  • Stress
  • Systemic diseases (diabetes)
  • Alcohol use
  • Caffeine use
  • Medication (daily Aspirin, diuretics, blood pressure medication, depression medication, schizophrenia medication)
  • Smoking
  • Recreational drug use
  • Radiation therapy (damaging major salivary glands)
  • Autoimmune disease (Sjogren syndrome)

 WHAT CAN HAPPEN WHEN YOU DON’T HAVE ENOUGH SALIVA:

  • Bad breath
  • Sore/burning mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing (may prefer softer foods, which can decay teeth)
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Altered taste
  • Gum disease
  • Tooth decay
  • Teeth erosion and sensitivity
  • Fungal infections in the mouth (Candidasis)
  • Difficulty wearing dentures
  • Cracked lips
  • Ulcers
  • Sore throat and a cough

 HOW DO YOU TREAT XEROSTOMIA:

Treating xerostomia depends on its causes. It is important to discuss this in depth with your dentist and make them aware of your lifestyle, family and medical history. They may recommend some or all of the available treatments to reduce the uncomfortable symptoms and to protect teeth and gums, such as:

  • Drinking more tap water
  • Chewing sugarless gum
  • Fluoride and antibacterial mouth rinses
  • Calcium mousse
  • Dry mouth gel
  • Dry mouth spray
  • Artificial saliva
  • Saliva-stimulating lozenges
  • Medication to increase production of saliva

So next time you kiss, eat, speak or drool on your pillow, spare a thought for those suffering from xerostomia and enjoy moments of intimacy, tasting some great food or simply having a fun conversation, courtesy of your own saliva!

Dr. Catherine-Anne Walsh
About The Author

Dr. Catherine-Anne Walsh

Catherine-Anne is a New Zealand-qualified dentist. She holds a Masters Degree in Public Health from Sydney University and she has a broad range of experiences from working in both the public and private sector.

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