The Function of the Salivary Glands and Why They Benefit Your Oral Health

June 28, 2018

The Function of the Salivary Glands and Why They Benefit Your Oral Health

Oral Health Clintonville OHLike everything else in life, many people worry about their saliva. Do I have too much, too little, or too much and too little at the same time?

Your health really comes down to understanding the Goldilocks zone for many fluids and temperatures. Salvia, in particular, has a significant impact on all aspects of your oral health.  The underlying question, of course, should be "What is the function of the salivary glands?"

Let's examine how salvia is formed by the glands and how they help you maintain good oral health. The secret to strong teeth, fresh breath, and complete digestion revolves around this complex fluid.

Function of the Salivary Glands

Quite simply, salivary glands exist to produce saliva. Saliva production requires specialized glands because of its unique composition.  Saliva also has to be distributed through the mouth, so the glands need to facilitate that as well.  Let's check out each of these existing categories of salivary gland facts. 

Production

When we say production, we mean it! The human body produces as much as 4 pints of saliva every day. That is half a gallon of saliva per person! The production is ongoing, but it does fluctuate. During the night, we have the lowest saliva production. This is good, because you certainly wouldn't want to have to wake up to swallow too often.  The production is highest in the afternoon between lunch and dinner. Any time you smell food, see food, or eat food, your body releases chemical signals in the brain which increases saliva production. If you've heard someone talking about food causing their mouth to water, it is because that is exactly what occurs!

Composition

What is saliva composed of?  It's 98% water with a few drops of mucus, enzymes, proteins, and salts.  Two enzymes, in particular, work to help with the digestion of more complex carbohydrates chains. Amalyase breaks down starches into maltose, which is a sugar.  Of course, your body likes sugar, while your teeth are negatively affected by excess sugar.  Salts, in the form of sodium bicarbonate, work to lower the pH of acids from foods (such as orange juice). This protects the tooth enamel from being slowly melted off. An onboard chemical burn suppression system is just one of the unsung human saliva facts!  Finally, bacteria-killing proteins enter the mix. These enzymes, such as lysozyme and peroxidase, stop infections and help prevent bad breath.

Distribution

The placement of salivary glands facilitates rapid deployment and distribution through the mouth. The following salivary gland facts vary widely between people because of differing mouth shapes and sizes. 

Salivary glands come in the form of six majors and hundreds of minors. The major glands are found in pairs. The largest gland is located along the jaw in front of the ears. These are called parotid glands and secrete proteins.

The next set of glands are found on the bottom of the mouth. These are called submandibular glands and they create mostly water and mucus.

The final set of glands are located near the front teeth under the tongue. These submandibular glands create more mucus than other glands.

Saliva travels through a series of small tubes. These tubes, called salivary ducts, transport saliva into the mouth, lips, and throat.

Salivary Glands and Health

Oral health can be negative impacted by the poor function of salivary glands in two major ways. The first issue involves trouble with the salivary gland system itself, which can cause pain and complications when eating. The second issue arises when the benefits of saliva taper off.  Nearly 12% of adults have experienced pain and problems with their mouth.

Gland Problems

When the flow from salivary glands is interrupted, it can create blockages.  Blockages take the form of saliva stones, a type of calcium crystal that can form from slow saliva movement or composition issues. These painful stones may block ducts and cause swelling.

Staying well hydrated often prevents slow saliva movement and overly thick composition. An increase in water intake can also help push saliva and break up or move stones.  When eating and drinking results in extreme pain and they don't seem to break up a stone, surgery may be needed.

Too High/Low Saliva Problems

Too much saliva in the mouth can cause excessive drooling!  This is not just unattractive in a social environment.  Drooling creates a link from the environment outside of your mouth into the mouth. Pathogens that need to travel through a liquid medium have a much higher tendency to become problematic.  Unfortunately, an imbalance of saliva can result in damage to the mouth itself.  Inflammation can cause irritation, which may further open the mouth to sores and lesions.  Small wounds in the mouth often house bacteria. This bacteria may disrupt digestion or increase issues with circulation.

The mouth effects health issues throughout the body.  A lack of saliva often makes food digestion slower and less complete. This means you get fewer nutrients out of food and experience a more difficult time breaking down substances, requiring you to consume more food to maintain the same level of nutrients.  It also results in complications further down the line, such as blockages in the intestines or bloating/gas in the stomach.  Without enough saliva, the mouth often struggles with dislodging food particles. This leads to more tooth decay and gum disease.   Bacteria also spreads more easily, causing bad breath, bleeding gums, and a swollen tongue.  In addition to being uncomfortable, this opens the body to infection.

Word of Mouth Health

We care about the health of your mouth and want you to be well informed. Our dental team encourages you to check out our ongoing blog with relevant information about your oral health and teeth.  There are a wide range of factors that can adversely affect your dental health.  If you have a specific question or concern about your oral health, contact us for more information or to set up an appointment.

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