Kyla Guimaraes
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The Hidden Benefits of Saliva

— Kyla Guimaraes

At first glance, saliva might seem to be just some strange liquid you always have in your mouth. In reality, it serves various important functions, from helping you digest food to removing harmful bacteria from your mouth. To understand the importance of saliva, we must first understand what saliva is and how it’s produced. 

All humans and other vertebrates have saliva, with the average person producing 0.5 to 1.5 liters of saliva, or spit, per day. Saliva is produced from small glands in your mouth, called salivary glands. Special nerves in your mouth send a signal to salivary glands to produce saliva. The three major salivary glands (the parotid, submandibular, and sublingual glands) produce around 90% of your total saliva. These glands are found in the region of your mouth by your ears, below your jawbone, and under your tongue, respectively. Minor glands, located by your tongue, voice box, sinuses, and lips, produce the remaining 10% of your saliva. 

Spit is 99% water. Water helps keep your mouth clean and regulates hydration. The remaining 1% is a mix of mucins, glycoproteins, mineral salts, and amylase. Salivary mucins are key to protecting your mouth from bacterial infections. Mucins gather bacteria together so that when you swallow your saliva, you remove bacteria from your mouth. Mucins can choose which bacteria to target, with glycans on the mucus bonding with specific bacteria strains. Together with immunoglobulins (molecules produced by white blood cells) and other glycoproteins, mucins also keep bacteria from adhering to the surface of your teeth and prevent dental erosion. Mineral salts help maintain the strength of the outer coating of your teeth. Additionally, they prevent cavities by removing certain minerals in your teeth that could cause harmful acids to be produced through chemical reactions between bacteria and the food you consume. Finally, amylase, an enzyme located in your salivary glands, reacts with starch molecules you eat and breaks them down, allowing you to digest more complex carbohydrates that can provide you with energy for longer amounts of time. 

So, there’s no denying the importance of saliva! This strange liquid in your mouth contributes to your health in many different ways, from keeping it clean to fueling your body. Don’t take it for granted!


References

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Hill, C. (2020, April 8). Fun saliva facts you probably don’t know. Smile On Dental Studio. https://www.smileonstl.com/blog/interesting-facts-about-saliva/#:~:text=Saliva%20is%20Made%20Of%20Mostly%20Water&text=The%20different%20compounds%20found%20in,off%20infections%20in%20your%20mouth 

Pinzón Martín, S., Seeberger, P. H., & Varón Silva, D. (2019). Mucins and pathogenic mucin-like molecules are immunomodulators during infection and targets for diagnostics and vaccines. Frontiers in Chemistry, 7. https://doi.org/10.3389/fchem.2019.00710 

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Salivary glands anatomy. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. (n.d.). https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/types/salivary-gland/salivary-glands-anatomy 

Van Nieuw Amerongen, A., Bolscher, J. G., & Veerman, E. C. (2004). Salivary proteins: protective and diagnostic value in cariology?. Caries research, 38(3), 247–253. https://doi.org/10.1159/000077762

Djvstock. (2021, October 17). Human mouth anatomy. Vecteezy. https://www.vecteezy.com/vector-art/3724560-human-mouth-anatomy