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Saliva and Your Mouth

Saliva is a clear liquid made by several glands in your mouth area.Saliva is an important part of a healthy body. It is mostly made of water. But saliva also contains important substances that your body needs to digest food and keep your teeth strong.

Saliva is important because it:

You make saliva when you chew. The harder you chew, the more saliva you make. Sucking on a sugarless hard candy or cough drop helps you make saliva, too.

The glands that make saliva are called salivary glands. The salivary glands sit inside each cheek, at the bottom of your mouth, and near your front teeth by the jaw bone.

Normally, the body makes up to 2 to 4 pints of saliva a day. Usually, the body makes the most saliva in the late afternoon. It makes the least amount at night.

But everyone is different. What doctors consider to be a normal amount of saliva varies quite a bit. That makes diagnosing saliva problems a bit of a challenge.

Too Little Saliva

Certain diseases and medicines can affect how much saliva you make. If you do not make enough saliva, your mouth can become quite dry. This condition is called dry mouth (xerostomia).

Dry mouth causes the gums, tongue, and other tissues in the mouth to become swollen and uncomfortable. Germs thrive in this type of setting. A germy, dry mouth leads to bad breath.

Dry mouth also makes you more likely to develop rapid tooth decay and gum (periodontal) disease. That’s because saliva helps clear food particles from your teeth. This helps reduce your risk for cavities.

If you have dry mouth, you may also notice you do not taste things like you used to.

Dry mouth is common in older adults, although the reasons are unclear. Diseases that affect the whole body (systemic disorders), poor nutrition, and the use of certain drugs are thought to play a key role.Too little saliva and dry mouth can be caused by:

  • Certain diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Sjogren’s syndrome, diabetes, and Parkinson’s
  • Blockage in one or more tubes that drain saliva (salivary duct obstruction)
  • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy
  • Dehydration
  • “Fight or flight” stress response
  • A structural problem with a salivary duct
  • Smoking cigarettes

Hundreds of commonly used medicines are known to affect saliva flow and cause dry mouth.

Always ask your health-care provider about side effects you might have when taking a medication.

What Can I Do if I Have Too Little Saliva?

Try these tips to help keep your salivary glands healthy and your mouth moist and comfortable:

  • Drink plenty of water
  • Chew sugar-free gum
  • Suck on sugar-free candy

If dry mouth persists, your doctor or dentist may recommend rinsing your mouth with artificial saliva. Artificial saliva is a liquid or sprays sold without a prescription. It can be used as often as needed.

Artificial saliva helps keep your mouth moist and comfortable. But it doesn’t contain the proteins, minerals, and other substances found in real saliva that help with digestion.