You probably don’t think too much about it or you may even think it’s gross, but saliva is important to your oral health. It also can give doctors clues about what’s going on in your body.
Saliva is mostly water, but it also contains electrolytes, bacteria, viruses, fungi, secretions from your nose and lungs, cells from the lining of your mouth and about 500 proteins. What’s in your saliva also depends on what you’ve put in your mouth lately – it could be food debris or leftover toothpaste.
You have two types of saliva. It can be a watery substance that clears food and dead cells from your mouth’s lining or a thicker secretion that helps food form into a ball so it can be swallowed.
In addition, saliva:
- Helps you taste what you eat and drink and helps digest food.
- Cleans food and bacteria from the teeth to prevent tooth decay.
- Keeps the skin around your mouth moist and aids in swallowing.
- Contains compounds that destroy or prevent the growth of certain microbes, especially fungi.
Medications, radiation and certain diseases can cause a lack of saliva and this increases your risk for tooth decay.
What your saliva says about you:
Saliva is a good place to look for clues about your health.
Saliva can show if you’ve used recreational drugs, such as cocaine, marijuana and barbiturates. It can also detect diseases. Researchers are looking at ways to use saliva to diagnose HIV, diabetes and Sjogren’s syndrome, a disease in which saliva production is decreased.
So while you may take saliva for granted, remember it’s necessary and may save you from dry mouth, tooth decay and help diagnose diseases.