With the way dentists and hygienists are always sucking saliva away or blowing your teeth dry, you’d think we had something against it. But the truth is that saliva is very beneficial to your overall and oral health. Here are a few facts about how saliva protects your smile that you may not already know.
Saliva does more than keeping your mouth moist and lubricate your food for easy swallowing, it actually starts the digestion process. Saliva contains a type of enzyme called amylase that breaks down the starch in foods into sugars so they can be more easily digested. This is why foods that contain a lot of starch, such as potatoes, may get a slightly sweet flavour as they’re chewed.
Saliva holds on to minerals that you get from what you eat and drink and helps distribute these minerals to your teeth. In particular, saliva can hold on to the fluoride from your diet and from your toothpaste or mouthwash. This is one reason you shouldn’t rinse with water for at least 30 minutes after brushing! You would be washing away or diluting that fluoride-filled saliva. The minerals in your saliva can help rebuild damage to your teeth, such as the very earliest stages of a cavity.
We produce saliva continuously when we’re awake and swallow it regularly. This may seem like just a gross unnecessary quirk of being human, but it actually does serve a purpose. Your saliva constantly washes your mouth, helping to remove food debris that may be stuck to your teeth and gums. Chewing gum after eating is beneficial to your teeth not because of any particular quality of the gum, but because the chewing action and the flavours stimulate your salivary glands, helping to cleanse your mouth.
Saliva is an essential part of the mechanism by which you taste the flavours in your food. Your taste buds need a liquid between them and your food in order for the flavour molecules to bind to the taste buds’ chemical receptors. Without this liquid medium between them, the flavour “message” can’t get through. For a great demonstration of this process, try this experiment. Pat your tongue dry with a towel then try to eat dry food such as crackers or cookies. Then, take another taste after re-moistening your mouth with water. Big difference, right?
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