Saliva is a humdrum liquid, the stuff of giggles, dribbles and schoolyard grossness. It’s hardly something to take seriously–until, that is, you lack it. When your glands no longer pump out a normal and robust 2 to 3 pints daily, then you’ll come to appreciate spit for the wondrous substance it is–one that does far more than render food slimy and digestible.
Saliva, science has revealed, is much more than water. It is packed with proteins that help control the teeming hordes of microbes in our mouths. It is stuffed with substances that make our spit stringy, stop our teeth from dissolving and help heal wounds. It is brimming with a plethora of hormones and other chemicals revealing anything from whether one smokes to whether one is stressed.
Thus it’s no wonder that trouble starts brewing when mouths dry out. Cavities blossom like flowers in spring. Tongues become sore and fissured, and breeding grounds for yeast. In a spit-depleted world, speaking and swallowing are challenges, eating a cracker is the height of recklessness and you wake up with your tongue glued to your mouth.
Such indignities will be more frequent in future years because the number of saliva-depleted people stands to rise, experts predict. Tens of thousands of Americans receive radiotherapy for head and neck cancers each year–a treatment that can permanently damage salivary glands. Maybe a million have dry mouths because their immune systems are attacking their own glands in a disease known as Sjogren’s syndrome
But an increasing number of people (25 million by some estimates, and more to come as the population ages) get dry mouths as a side effect of more than 400 of today’s medications–taken for depression, high blood pressure and more.
Armed with a deep knowledge of saliva gleaned over decades, this cadre–which jocularly refers to itself as the “salivation army”–is working to create better artificial salivas to keep mouths wet and protected and find new drugs to help saliva flow more freely. They’re trying to repair salivary glands with gene therapy–even to build an artificial gland to implant in the mouth.
And their vision goes far beyond simply mending the mouth. Just as leech saliva gave us anticoagulants, researchers hope that our very own spit may yield new antimicrobial drugs to help battle germs. Or that sick people’s salivary glands can one day be coaxed to make hormones that are needed for their bodies to heal.
“The field’s quite exciting–we’re entering a new phase,” says Lawrence Tabak, a longtime saliva scientist and director of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. “People are trying to translate what they’ve learned from nature into things that are going to improve patients’ health. To me, that’s the most exciting thing possible–to take these great, basic science discoveries and translate them into tangibles.”
Dry mouth can damage teeth and for that salivary glands plays a very important part for maintaining good teeth.
Milk and saliva both contain growth factors known to control cell turnover in the body. The Egyptians used breast milk to heal burns and dogs lick their wounds to help them heal. and much anecdotal evidence indicate maggots can help some wounds heal … all their medications on board in their saliva: an … the UW’s division of plastic surgery who has used maggots for difficult wounds.
For small wounds or cut we can always use our own saliva instead of rubing antiseptic and saliva will heal the wounds much faster and more effectively.