The Wonderful World of Saliva
When you hear the phrase “spit it out,” it usually means, “Get to the point!” At the Placerville Dental Group, when we use the phrase, we usually mean it literally (not to mention more respectfully). Sometimes, we want to get a sample of your saliva for testing or examination. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), saliva is derived from blood and acts as the “bloodstream” of the mouth. Just as a blood sample reveals the status of your body’s health, a sample of saliva gives indications about your oral health. And the best part is, we don’t use needles to retrieve saliva.
What Saliva Does for You
Saliva performs many functions to benefit your oral health.
- Rinses your mouth, washing away food and debris;
- Moistens and breaks down food, allowing for easier chewing, swallowing and digestion;
- Enhances ability to taste;
- Protects against gum disease, tooth decay, and other oral infections;
- Helps with remineralization of tooth enamel;
- Provides a buffer against bacteria;
- Neutralizes acids in the mouth.
When the Placerville Dental Group tests your saliva, we learn about your levels of blood glucose, electrolytes and protein. If you diseases like diabetes, your saliva often points to the status of the disease. If you have an infection like oral thrush, your saliva’s consistency changes from clear to milky white, indicating to your dentist that further attention is absolutely necessary. Researchers are currently studying the use of saliva for the diagnosis of breast cancer, oral cancers, and viral infections.
Too Much or Too Little Saliva
Even the quantity of saliva gives your dentist clues about your health. Xerostomia, known as “dry mouth,” is a condition where your mouth is not making enough saliva. This can be brought on by certain medications, therapies, nerve damage or disease. Granted, we all get a dry mouth at times, like when we wake up or when we’re under stress. But if you have persistent dry mouth, talk to your dentist at the Placerville Dental Group — your lack of saliva might be a symptom of something else.
The same is true of excessive saliva production, also called ptyalism gravidarum or hypersalivation. In many cases, it’s simply referred to as drooling. This is common among pregnant women (the “gravidarum” part), or people with gastroesophageal acid reflux disease (GERD, for short). However, drooling is also a symptom of a dental infection. Let your dentist know if you notice increased saliva production or the onset of drooling while you sleep so they can help to identify the cause.
Keeping your saliva production in that “Goldilocks zone” – not too much or too little, but just right — leads to a healthier mouth and improved overall health. So when your dentist asks you to “spit it out,” do so with confidence!