Saliva - composition & tasks

Saliva is produced by six large and hundreds of small salivary glands in the oral cavity. The large paired salivary glands are in the cheeks, lower jaw and under the tongue and the up to 1000 microscopic salivary glands are distributed throughout the entire oral cavity and throat. The glands can produce up to 2 litres of saliva per day. Saliva is 99% water. This means that only 1% of saliva contains all other substances (incl. mucins, proteins, enzymes, mineral salts and immunoglobulins).
 

Tasks of saliva

Saliva has a variety of tasks. Its main job is to keep the oral cavity moist and to rinse it out and prevent the oral mucosa from drying out. Saliva also has other important functions for food intake and digestion, forms a defensive barrier against bacteria, viruses and fungi, promotes wound healing, has a self-cleaning and rinsing function, can act as a buffer against harmful acids, remineralizes the teeth and protects them from demineralisation.

The moistening of the oral mucosa, the tongue and the teeth help with speaking and swallowing. When chewing food, components in the saliva release flavourings and saliva enzymes begin the digestion process in the mouth. Saliva also makes biting smoother and swallowing easier. The rinsing function removes germs and the anti-bacterial and anti-viral components form a protective barrier against pathogens. Saliva is also a mineral deposit. It can neutralise acids and provide the teeth with all the necessary mineral salts. Thus, the teeth are protected from damage caused by demineralisation or damage already occurred can be repaired.
 

In summary, saliva has the following four main functions:

  • Rinsing
  • Antimicrobial effect
  • Buffer
  • Remineralisation