What is saliva?
Saliva is mostly water and comes from your salivary glands. They are situated inside your cheeks, behind your front teeth and at the back of your mouth. Every day, your glands produce about 1 to 2 litres of saliva which contains essential substances such as enzymes, electrolytes and antibacterial compounds.
A healthy mouth should ideally have a pH level of 7. As a comparison, fruit juices are often highly acidic (pH levels between 2 and 4). Therefore drinking plain water, chewing sugar free gum after meals, or eating cheese at the end of a meal returns your mouth to a healthy pH level and increases saliva production.
Why is saliva important?
By making the food moist, it helps you to swallow food and start the process of digestion. For example, amylase is an enzyme that breaks some starches down into maltose and dextrin. Antibacterial enzymes block or destroy harmful bacteria that occurs on the surface of your teeth.
If you do not produce enough saliva, your mouth can feel dry and uncomfortable. You may find that you cannot taste food as saliva helps you detect flavours. Dry mouth can also cause bad breath, sore throat and increase your risk of tooth decay and gum disease. Medications and certain illnesses can cause dry mouth.
Healthy flow prevents infection and decay in your mouth by washing off the acids that are produced when eating or drinking. But, frequent consumption of sugary and acidic foods and drinks makes it harder for saliva to protect your tooth enamel.
Even though it rinses off acids and sugars, you still need to brush and floss regularly to make sure you remove plaque. Professional cleans are also necessary to remove tartar which is hardened plaque that builds up on teeth.