Probably one of the most overlooked parts of your digestive system are the salivary glands, but they play such an important role to your oral health. Here's where these glands are located, how they produce saliva and why they don't just help to break down your food, but prevent tooth decay as well.
What the Salivary Glands Do
Your saliva comes from three major glands located on the palate, cheeks and floor of the mouth. The saliva they secrete is actually a liquid filled with minerals that help lower the acid level in your mouth, a process that keeps your tooth enamel from wearing and cavities from forming as a result.
The slippery texture of saliva helps to lubricate food as you chew it, so it can pass through your esophagus and into your stomach more easily. Saliva also contains enzymes that help in the early digestion of your food. So, when mixed in your mouth while you chew, it can soften and break down the more complex products your body needs to store as energy.
What They Are
Each side of your mouth has three major salivary glands:
The parotid gland is located high in your cheek and is the gland often affected by mumps, for which most children are vaccinated today. The saliva comes out of the parotid gland just above your upper molars.
The submandibular gland, also known as the submaxillary gland, as described by Britannica, rests deep in your jawbone alongside your bottom teeth. This gland empties saliva right under your tongue.
The sublingual gland sits underneath the tip of your tongue. It also empties saliva very near the front of your tongue's bottom surface.
Why They're Important
A lack of saliva leads to a condition called xerostomis (dry mouth), which can cause an increase in decay, bad breath and even digestive problems due to the lack of digestion and acid control that normally takes place in your mouth. Because these glands secrete saliva through a tiny opening at the end of a duct (tube), these sometimes get blocked or inflamed, causing even less saliva to flow.
Keep in mind the medications available may also lower the production of saliva, according to the American Dental Association (ADA). Fortunately, your dentist can prescribe a product to help relieve the symptoms. You, however, can prevent tooth decay from starting at home with Colgate® Enamel Health® Sensitivity Relief Toothpaste so you're protected from the enamel erosion and tooth sensitivity that can occur when saliva levels drop.
Your dentist and physician can also review the medication you may be taking to see if there's a substitute that can lessen the effects of dry mouth. Ultimately, more frequent preventive visits to your dentist and hygienist will ensure a lifetime of good oral health.