Did you know you have six salivary glands? You have two sublingual, two submaxillary, and two parotid glands. And they all work together to produce almost two liters of saliva each day—that’s about half a gallon!!
These six saliva-producing glands are vital organs that work hard to keep you healthy, safe, and comfortable. Here are 10 weird and wacky facts about saliva you probably didn’t know but will make you appreciate the work they do a whole lot more.
1. Your spit is a tooth strengthener.
Saliva actually helps to strengthen your teeth by providing critical minerals such as calcium, fluoride, and phosphate to the enamel of your teeth. Enamel is the hardest surface of your body and a really important one. It’s the first line of defense in keeping your teeth from rotting out of your head.
Enamel owes its hardness to the minerals it is made up of. And the mineral fluoride, that popular toothpaste ingredient we all know so well, can become apart of this mineral layer to further strengthen it. Fluoride helps to protect your enamel from the demineralization process.
Demineralization occurs when plaque on your teeth produce acids that break down your enamel layer by leeching it of the very minerals it is made up of.
In addition to providing these important strengthening minerals, your spit contains sodium bicarbonate which can neutralize these acids and further protect your teeth.
This is why the American Dental Association endorses gum. The act of chewing increases the flow of saliva and therefore increases the benefits reaped by it!
2. It protects gums from disease.
Saliva, in addition to protecting your teeth, also protects your gums from developing periodontitis, commonly known as gum disease.
Gum disease occurs when the gums become irritated and inflamed from plaque building up on the tooth’s surface. As the gums become more and more irritated from this buildup, they begin to recede—pulling away from the irritant.
The longer this persists the further they pull back—eventually creating a pocket of space between the gum and tooth. This open pocket is an easy place for food particles and bacteria to collect, causing further irritation and recession of the gums as well as infection.
Saliva keeps the mouth lubricated so that everything can do its job. By neutralizing acids and washing away food particles and bacteria saliva proactively protects your mouth from gum disease—ridding itself of irritants long before they can wreak havoc. Your spit is kind of like your mouth’s superhero.
3. Break it down now! Your food, that is.
When many think of digestion, they think of the stomach doing all the work. However, saliva is actually the first step to digestion!
Not only does it help to moisten food so that it is easy to chew, break down, and swallow, but it also contains a digestive enzyme called amylase. This enzyme sets to work right away by breaking down any of the starches you eat into sugar molecules. Your body can then whisk these sugar molecules off to the next step in the digestion process.
4. Saliva: A foodie’s best friend.
In order for us to taste the foods we eat, they must first be broken down by our saliva. In fact, if it weren’t for saliva, we wouldn’t be able to taste at all!
First, it’s important to know that taste is different than flavor. Taste is the four major sensations: salt, sour, bitter and sweet while flavor is the combination of these sensations with the aroma of your food.
Your saliva breaks down food and delivers it to the different taste bud receptors along your tongue so that you can experience the delightful sensations, and flavor, of the food you are eating.
5. The original web-slinging superhero
The phrase “to lick one’s wounds” is usually used in reference to a hurt ego. But the actual act of licking one’s wounds is usually thought to be the animalistic behavior for those creatures without the medical marvels of soap, bacitracin, and sterile band-aids.
However, animals intuitively know something you might not—despite teeming with bacteria, the mouth can heal faster than anywhere else in the body thanks to an especially hardy team of white blood cells that reside there. And these white blood cells, when applied to any wound whether of the mouth or limb, can help it to heal much faster.
Chemicals like lysozyme, lactoferrin, peroxidase, and immunoglobulin A. are found in saliva and known to fight bacteria. The white blood cells in spit also have a unique ability to create strong web-like nets that wrap around bacteria and kill them—in fact, they do this better than white blood cells found anywhere else in the body.
6. Spit is 99% water.
So far we’ve learned that spit contains minerals that strengthen teeth, sodium bicarbonate to neutralize cavity-causing acids, the sugar-digesting enzyme amylase, the immune system’s frontman mucus, and super-hero-like web-slinging white blood cells.
And yet despite being packed with all these components, they are just 1% of your saliva. Yep, 99% percent of your saliva is simply water. Which goes to show just how power-packed this stuff is.
7. Baby drool—a learning process.
Babies are renowned for the level of saliva they seem to produce. But did you know that they don’t start producing saliva until they are about three months of age?
They also aren’t creating any more saliva than the rest of us. The reason for their seemingly never-ending supply of saliva is simply that, unlike us, they aren’t swallowing it all. Children do not gain full control of their mouth muscles, which are necessary for properly swallowing, until they are around two years of age.
8. Drool rules your spit’s schedule.
Your circadian rhythm is the biological clock your body runs by. It includes such processes as your sleep cycle as well as digestion and body temperature.
The autonomic nervous system controls saliva and operates as a part of the circadian rhythm. For this reason, you don’t produce the same amount of saliva continuously throughout the day. Thanks to our circadian rhythm, we make the most saliva in the late afternoon and the least at night while asleep.
9. A historical household staple: Spittoons.
A spittoon is like a trash can or ashtray specifically designed for saliva. A receptacle with a wide funnel-like brim for saliva to drip down into the jug below they were often used by those in the habit of chewing tobacco.
Throughout the late 19th century, spittoons could be found in pubs, saloons, hotels, stores, banks and other such public spaces. In fact in 1880, the Boston Fire Department alone had 260 spittoons!
Today, the United States Senate still has spittoons throughout the Senate chambers and United States Supreme Court. Though they are now used as wastebaskets to collect trash instead of spittle.
10. Expectorating for Sport
There are several contests held throughout the world to make a sport out of the act of spitting. There are even multiple, and impressive, Guinness Book of World Record holders from these contests.
For example, in Michigan, there is the Annual International Cherry Pit Spitting Championship, where in 2004 Brian “Young Gun” Krause set a record of the longest spit of a cherry stone by 93 feet and 6.5 inches.
Think that’s wacky? At Purdue University in Indiana as a part of their annual Bug Bowl, they hold a cricket spitting contest. Don’t worry the cricket is frozen…not alive. And the record stands at 32 feet and 1.25 inches since 1998!
Other popular spitting contests include table tennis balls, champagne corks, winkles (a spiralized seashell), and olive-pits.