Background/aims: Saliva, a heterogeneous fluid comprising proteins, glycoproteins, electrolytes, small organic molecules and compounds transported from the blood, constantly bathes the teeth and oral mucosa. It acts as a cleansing solution, an ion reservoir, a lubricant and a buffer. In addition to its other host-protective properties, saliva could constitute a first line of defence against free radical-mediated oxidative stress, since the process of mastication and digestion of ingested foods promotes a variety of reactions, including lipid peroxidation. Moreover, during gingival inflammation, gingival crevicular fluid flow increases the change of saliva composition with products from the inflammatory response; this, in turn, could have some rôle in controlling and/or modulating oxidative damages in the oral cavity. This is the reason why the antioxidant capacity of saliva has led to increasing interest, and the development of techniques suitable for saliva antioxidant evaluation.
Materials and methods: Here, we review the current peer-reviewed literature concerning the nature and characteristics of free radicals, reactive oxygen species, oxidants, pro-oxidants and antioxidants in saliva, especially pro-oxidant and antioxidant features, as well as current methods for assessing the antioxidant capacity of saliva.
Results and conclusions: In the last decade, several methods have been developed for assaying the antioxidant activity of saliva, indicating an increasing interest of researchers and clinicians. Unfortunately, systematic studies of saliva are still lacking, even in healthy populations.