Saliva is a clear, watery substance produced in the mouth by several glands. It has several important functions, including:
- Lubrication: Saliva helps to keep the mouth moist, reducing friction and making it easier to speak, swallow, and chew.
- Digestion: Saliva contains enzymes that begin the digestion of carbohydrates and help to neutralize the acidity of food in the mouth.
- Protection: Saliva helps to wash away food particles and bacteria, reducing the risk of tooth decay and gum disease.
- pH balance: Saliva helps to maintain the pH balance in the mouth, which is important for oral health.
- Taste: Saliva helps to distribute taste molecules and enhance the perception of flavor.
Saliva production decreases as people age, which can lead to dry mouth (xerostomia), a condition that can cause discomfort, difficulties with speech and swallowing, and increased risk of dental problems. Certain medications and medical conditions can also affect saliva production and lead to dry mouth. Drinking water and chewing sugar-free gum can help to increase saliva production and relieve symptoms of dry mouth. If dry mouth is persistent and affecting oral health, a healthcare professional can recommend treatments such as saliva substitutes or prescription medications.