The Arthritis Newsletter

Summer 2014

And then Saliva said, "YOU'RE GONNA MISS ME WHEN I'M GONE……"

By Marilyn Mulldoon


We all know that adequate oxygen and blood supply are vital components to health and survival. We respect these superstars, but when was the last time you stopped to admire the incredible and intricate work that saliva does? It’s worth its weight in gold.


Without complaint, this noble fluid comprised mainly of water and protein, daily plays a critical and complex role.  There are villains afoot, however, that would seek to destroy our silent hero and lay waste to the beautiful balance and harmony saliva labours to maintain.  These dastardly knaves include but are not limited to:  Sjögren’s, Lupus, head and neck radiation, chemotherapy, dehydration, prescription drugs (over a hundred cause dry mouth) such as blood pressure medications, anti-depressants, anti-anxiety and bladder medications, decongestants, antihistamines, and others. Even aging sometimes gets in on the act.


In order to grasp the serious implications of a chronically dry mouth, let’s review a checklist of saliva’s magnanimous daily labours to preserve your oral environment and kindly remember, our silent protagonist is not just spit!


In a typical healthy person, saliva:


  • Maintains a neutral PH, contains several chemical systems called buffers that can neutralize acid from beverages, food and gastric reflux
  • Protects, lubricates and cleanses the oral mucosa
  • Facilitates chewing and swallowing, acts as a barrier to irritating or harmful substances in food
  • Protects against decay, washes away bacteria, counters effects of acid produced by bacteria, repairs damage produced by acid
  • Assists speech by coating all oral surfaces
  • Aids in dental remineralization by providing a reservoir of calcium and phosphate ions
  • Protects against infection by bacteria, yeast and viruses
  • Possesses antibacterial, anti-fungal or anti-viral properties
  • Commences dissolution and initial digestion of solid food
  • Forms food into a bolus and guides away from airway
  • Washes and protects esophagus, keeps tongue smooth and glossy


Impressed?  This is saliva’s awesome warfare on a daily basis. Imagine then, what may lay ahead when your taciturn hero is being attacked by ongoing disease and medications, including chronic cavities, dry teeth that crack and fracture, esophageal compromise, gum shrinkage/disease, fungal infections, choking on and possibly aspirating particulates, and hot food that literally sticks to and burns tongue, cheek or gums. Tongues can appear pitted, cracked and/or split.  Taste and digestion are compromised, nutritional malabsorption is common, sleep can be disrupted, and the possibility of bad breath increases.


Awareness of saliva loss is subjective; like dehydration, many people don’t notice it until rather advanced.  If your medications are the reason for your dry mouth, talk to your doctor, but do not stop taking them. Frequent sips of water or ice chips will help and there are some commercial products available. Efficacy varies from person to person. Olive oil, aloe vera gel or Vitamin E oil spread over tongue, cheeks and lips offer some relief, but make sure these products don’t interfere with medications. Take the time to notice and should you see anyone spitting needlessly, penalize them on the spot for wasting such an unassuming but valuable resource.


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