Most people probably think of saliva as the spit-like substance in the mouth that helps them to break down foods and maintain their mouths moisture levels. While these are certainly true and interesting aspects of the fluid there is more to saliva including important dental aspects as well as research that is using saliva to detect diseases in a more timely, efficient and safer manner. In fact, saliva may one day replace blood samples which is big news for scientists and doctors who see the potential of saliva screenings to save lives.
Saliva is secreted into the mouth by three major glands that are near the jaws and inside the lips, cheeks, mouth and throat. The saliva glands secrete a watery fluid that contains proteins, enzymes, minerals, and antibodies that help to perform some very helpful functions within our mouths:
Cleansing- Saliva helps to wash food particles from the mouth and helps to reduce the amount of sugars that cause cavities.
Protecting & Disinfecting- Saliva protects the mouth by fighting bacteria and other germ-causing organisms in the mouth.
Maintenance- Saliva helps to keep the balance in the mouth between acidity and alkalinity that can cause decay.
Re-mineralization- Saliva contain calcium and phosphate minerals which aid in the enamel building process.
Digesting- Saliva makes food easier to chew and breaks down starches.
Most recently saliva has been researched and tested to diagnose disease. It can be evaluated by scientists for molecules that are indicators for disease. By looking into the composition of the fluid scientists are able to see if the molecules contained have indicators of harmful health conditions. The benefit of saliva is that is easier and cheaper to collect, is easier to handle, and doesn’t expose healthcare workers to blood-borne diseases.
Look for more research on this interesting science in the near future as scientists make progress in its research.