The other day I came across a photo of my son when he was only a baby. How can you not love that face?! After a second look, I realized how meaningful this photo really is – ‘Spit Happens,’ and there’s a science to it! The presence of saliva, or lack thereof, can be used to describe a spectrum of emotional and physical states. As Pavlov demonstrated with his dogs, the control of saliva flow lies deep in our subconscious.
Most of us think of saliva a simple wetting agent. It moistens food so that the flavors can diffuse around our taste buds and help it slide smoothly down our throat as we swallow. It begins to dissolve solids to aid in digestion and can help cleanse your mouth after eating. But there is so much more.
Saliva is the first line of defense in our immune system. A specific type of immunoglobulin (IgA) is secreted in our saliva that can mark harmful entities for destruction or even directly neutralize certain foreign molecules. At the same time, it can help maintain a helpful balance of bacteria and fungi in our mouths and digestive system.
Tooth decay would be nearly unstoppable without saliva. Molecules in saliva can neutralize acids that are created by cavity-causing bacteria..… After all, tooth decay is essentially caused by acids dissolving the tooth away. But what makes saliva especially helpful, is that it can harden a pre-cavity spot after the acids are neutralized. That is why it is so important to keep periods of time between meals & snacks and to have clean teeth while you sleep.
Changes in saliva can also be a result of changing health. Certain health conditions could produce a more stringy spit or even dry mouth. You may notice a different taste or smell to the saliva. Likewise, many medications can affect the saliva or the rate that it is secreted. These might be topics of conversation when meeting with your physician or dentist.
As a dentist, I can go on for hours about this glorious liquid we call spit. Researchers are discovering more about saliva every day, and there is still so much that we don’t know. There is no question that saliva constantly impacts our lives and our culture. Next time you read a piece of literature, look for descriptions of saliva to create tone or emotion. It can be easily overlooked. Spit happens, and I am so glad that it does.