The Science of Spit

Photo by Nikki Mcleod It whets our whistles, spats in anger and mostly is just there without us thinking much about it. Until it’s not.

Our salivary glands produce 2 to 3 pints every day, all day. It helps do the obvious, like swallow and digest food, keep your teeth clean and the not so obvious, like fight infections.

Without it, life would be miserable.

The Salivation Army

Researchers are intrigued by the plethora of potential uses our salivary glands provide. In the late 1800’s a researcher by the name of John Berry Haycraft discovered a powerful anticoagulant in the saliva of leeches called hirudin.

Today, scientists calling themselves the “salivation army” are working on isolating the proteins and hormones that may one day lead to new antimicrobial drugs.

“The field’s quite exciting–we’re entering a new phase,” says Lawrence Tabak, 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.”

Increasing Need for Dry Mouth Help

More than 400 medications, for everything from depression to regulating blood pressure, leave patients numbering in the millions with chronic dry mouth.

It’s not a pretty picture, either. It’s more than just feeling a bit parched. People suffering from dry mouth truly do suffer.

It’s hard to speak or eat. You are incessantly in need of water and without it, are left croaking and choking.

Drugs attempting to stimulate salivary glands often send other bodily secretions into overdrive, drenching patients in sweat.

Still, tens of thousands more receive radiotherapy for head, throat, and neck cancers each year which blasts the salivary glands rendering them useless. Millions more suffer from Sjogren’s syndrome which causes their immune systems to attack their own salivary glands. With the number of patients suffering from dry mouth rising each year, scientists are working on the problem.

Scientists are hoping new research will help to create better artificial saliva and repair salivary glands with gene therapy. Some are even working to build an artificial gland that can be implanted in the mouth.

Saliva lubricates our mouths, protects our teeth and fights infections. If you suffer from dry mouth for any reason, come in and see Dr. Matthews today.

Dan Matthews DDS
Dan Matthews Dan Matthews DDS The Park at Eanes Creek,
4407 Bee Cave Road
Building 2, Suite 221
Austin, Texas, 78746
(512) 452-2273
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