Nobody likes to produce so much saliva that they’re drooling, but a lack of saliva production is problematic, too. Saliva lubricates your esophagus so food can easily slide towards your stomach. Saliva also contains digestive enzymes and it keeps bacteria from getting out of control in your mouth. Sucking on candy and chewing sugar-free gum promotes saliva secretion, although eating sour fruits may be more effective and healthier.
Saliva is a liquid that’s secreted into your mouth primarily from three pairs of glands -- the parotid, submandibular and sublingual glands. There are also hundreds of tiny glands located throughout your mouth, throat and lips. Saliva is mainly water -- about 98 percent -- but it also contains some mucus, salt, enzymes, antibacterial compounds and chemicals that buffer acid. In addition to providing lubrication and killing harmful bacteria, saliva helps to digest starchy and fatty foods. Saliva is released at all times of the day and night, although its peak production occurs when you taste, smell and think of food. When healthy, you produce 2 or 3 pints of saliva per day, which equals almost 10,000 gallons in your lifetime.
Lack of Saliva Production
A lack of saliva production has many causes, but it always leads to a condition commonly called dry mouth, although doctors sometimes refer to it as xerostomia. Possible causes of dry mouth include salivary gland injury or disease -- such as Sjögren's syndrome -- side effect from taking medication, complication from receiving cancer treatment, extreme dehydration, loss of blood and chronic mouth breathing. Dry mouth leads to many complications such as bad breath, painful swallowing, higher risk of dental infections and gum disease, difficulty talking and poor sense of taste.
Stimulating Saliva Secretion
Consult with your doctor before trying to increase your saliva production because it may not be a smart thing to do if your glands are injured or diseased, or if your body is severely dehydrated. If you get the thumbs up from the doc and want to take a natural approach, then try eating fruits that are sour or tart such as lemon, lime, grapefruit or cranberry. Sour fruits are acidic and they make your mouth pucker, which triggers saliva release. It’s probably best to suck on a piece of sour fruit prior to a meal because drinking too much acidic juice may upset your stomach. Go easy with the fruit because you may actually feel some tingling or mild pain in your saliva glands as they contract. Eating soup at room temperature can also increase saliva secretion, especially if you add fresh tomato slices or a little tomato juice. Sipping some water with a little vitamin C powder added, sucking on ice-cubes or chewing gum containing xylitol may also help.
Things to Avoid
There are many things that can aggravate dry mouth such as using mouthwash containing alcohol or peroxide, drinking alcoholic beverages -- especially tannin-rich red wine -- and consuming coffee, tea or soda pop. You should also avoid eating salty food such as nuts, dry food such as crackers or popcorn and sugary desserts. Don’t forget to ask your doctor if dry mouth is a known side effect of any medications that you may be on.
- Human Biochemistry; Charles Dreiling
- Textbook of Functional Medicine; David S. Jones
- Textbook of Nutritional Medicine; Melvyn Werbach and Jeffery Moss
- MayoClinic.com: Excessive Saliva
Sirah Dubois is currently a PhD student in food science after having completed her master's degree in nutrition at the University of Alberta. She has worked in private practice as a dietitian in Edmonton, Canada and her nutrition-related articles have appeared in The Edmonton Journal newspaper.