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Saliva and Your Mouth

Saliva is a clear, watery liquid made by several glands in your mouth area.

Saliva is an important part of a healthy body. It is mostly made of water. But saliva also contains important substances that your body needs to digest food and keep your teeth strong.

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Saliva is important because it:

  • Keeps your mouth moist and comfortable
  • Helps you chew, taste, and swallow
  • Fights germs in your mouth and prevents bad breath
  • Has proteins and minerals that protect tooth enamel and prevent tooth decay and gum disease
  • Helps keep dentures securely in place

You make saliva when you chew. The harder you chew, the more saliva you make. Sucking on a hard candy or cough drop helps you make saliva, too.

The glands that make saliva are called salivary glands. The salivary glands sit inside each cheek, at the bottom of your mouth, and near your front teeth by the jaw bone.

There are six major salivary glands and hundreds of minor ones. Saliva moves through tubes called salivary ducts.

Normally, the body is always making saliva, up to 2 to 4 pints a day. Usually, the body makes the most saliva in the late afternoon. It makes the least amount at night.

But everyone is different. What doctors consider to be a normal amount of saliva varies quite a bit. That makes diagnosing saliva problems a bit of a challenge.

Too Little Saliva

Certain diseases and medicines can affect how much saliva you make. If you do not make enough saliva, your mouth can become quite dry. This condition is called dry mouth (xerostomia).

Dry mouth causes the gums, tongue, and other tissues in the mouth to become swollen and uncomfortable. Germs thrive in this type of setting. A germy, dry mouth leads to bad breath.

Dry mouth also makes you more likely to develop rapid tooth decay and gum (periodontal) disease. That's because saliva helps clear food particles from your teeth. This helps reduce your risk for cavities.

If you have dry mouth, you may also notice you do not taste things like you used to.

Dry mouth is common in older adults, although the reasons are unclear. Diseases that affect the whole body (systemic disorders), poor nutrition, and the use of certain drugs are thought to play a key role.

Too little saliva and dry mouth can be caused by:

  • Certain diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Sjogren's syndrome, diabetes, and Parkinson's
  • Blockage in one or more tubes that drain saliva (salivary duct obstruction)
  • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy
  • Dehydration
  • "Fight or flight" stress response
  • Structural problem with a salivary duct
  • Smoking cigarettes

Hundreds of commonly used medicines are known to affect saliva flow and cause dry mouth, such as:

  • Antihistamines
  • Anxiety medicines
  • Appetite suppressants
  • Certain types of blood pressure drugs
  • Diuretics (water pills)
  • Most antidepressants
  • Certain pain medicines (analgesics)

Always ask your health-care provider about side effects you might have when taking a medication.

WebMD Medical Reference

How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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