Your saliva plays one of the most important roles in your digestive system and protecting your oral health. However, this part of the system is often overlooked, given how we don’t know enough about it. The saliva in our mouth is produced by a tissue known as salivary glands.
Found only in mammals, salivary glands release saliva into the epithelial surface of our mouth with the help of ducts. Saliva is more of a topical fluid and doesn’t go into our bloodstream. It is a mixture of water, mucus, digestive enzymes, and antibacterial substance. The enzymes present in our saliva help in breaking down of our food into simpler sugars like maltose and glucose.
Function of Salivary Glands
Salivary glands have two major functions of protecting the oral tissues and breaking down the food with its enzymes. Made out of substances like water, mucus, and antibacterial substances, the salivary glands have following functions.
- Dilution of sugars after eating food and having drinks
- Degradation of bacterial cell walls inside the mouth and performing a cleansing of the mouth
- Maintaining the pH of the mouth by controlling the acid production
- Repair of the broken tissue inside the mouth
- The presence of calcium and phosphates in the saliva help in remineralization of the enamel as well
- Helps in chewing and swallowing of the food by making it softer
- Breaks down the food with enzymes and turns it into simpler sugars
- Keeps the oral tissues lubricated and facilitates speech
Apart from these, one can also make use of saliva to determine the hormone balance of one’s body. It helps in identifying steroids in one’s body. It offers help in many diagnostic tests that allows you to check up on the counts of bacteria, yeast, etc. in the mouth.
How do they work?
Based on their location, the salivary glands are divided into three types and have different functions for each:
- Parotid Gland: This gland is located in the cheeks and the largest salivary glands. They produce up to twenty percent of the saliva in our mouth. They facilitate with the chewing of the food.
- Submandibular gland: These glands are present in the movable part of our jaw, close to mandible. At 65%, it produces most amount of saliva in our mouth.
- Sublingual glands: These glands are dispersed and located right under our tongue. The saliva contains mostly mucus and accounts for less than 5% of the saliva production in our mouth.
Why are salivary glands important?
Saliva is crucial to maintaining the health of the mouth as it not only helps in the breakage of food particles, but also maintains the pH balance of the mouth. Salivary glands also facilitate the speech function. The lack of saliva can result in xerostomis, a condition that can increase the decay of teeth, and cause bad breath. The digestive system also suffers as the food particles cannot be broken down. This could also increase the amount of acid in the mouth, as the saliva won’t be present to balance it out.
The salivary glands make use of tiny ducts to produce saliva. Thus, if they are inflamed or blocked, the production of saliva will suffer, resulting in the dry mouth condition. Your dentist can thus, prescribe you medicines to curb this condition.