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Salivary Glands: How They Protect Your Oral Health

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The salivary glands are probably one of the most overlooked parts of the digestive system, but they play a major role in oral health. Let's look at the location of these glands, how they produce saliva, and why they don't just help to break down your food, but prevent cavities as well.

What do the Salivary Glands Do?

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 reduce the acidity in your mouth; this process keeps your tooth enamel from wearing and cavities from forming as a result.

The slippery texture of saliva helps lubricate food as you chew it, so it can pass through your oesophagus and into your stomach more easily. Saliva also contains enzymes that contribute to the early digestion of your food. So, when mixed in your mouth as you chew, it can soften and break down the more complex substances your body needs to store as energy.

Where Are They?

Each side of your mouth has three major salivary glands:

  1. The parotid gland is located high up in your cheek; it is the gland often affected by mumps, for which most children are vaccinated today. Saliva is secreted from the parotid gland just above your upper molars.
  2. The submandibular gland, also known as the submaxillary gland, as described by Britannica, sits deep in your jawbone alongside your bottom teeth. This gland secretes saliva right under your tongue.
  3. The sublingual gland sits underneath the tip of your tongue. It also secretes saliva very near the front of your tongue's bottom surface.

Why Are They Important?

A lack of saliva leads to a condition called xerostomia (dry mouth), which can cause an increase in cavities, bad breath, and even digestive problems due to the lack of digestion and acid control that normally occur in the mouth. These glands secrete saliva through a tiny opening at the end of a duct (tube), but these openings sometimes get blocked or inflamed, preventing the flow of saliva.

According to the American Dental Association (ADA), some medications may also lower saliva production. Fortunately, your dentist can prescribe a product to help relieve the symptoms and help prevent cavities.

Your dentist and physician can also review any medication you are 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.