Salivary flow patterns and the health of hard and soft oral tissues

J Am Dent Assoc. 2008 May;139 Suppl:18S-24S. doi: 10.14219/jada.archive.2008.0351.


Background: This nonsystematic review summarizes the effects of saliva on some of the diseases affecting the hard and soft oral tissues.

Results: Saliva enters the mouth at several locations, and the different secretions are not well-mixed. Saliva in the mouth forms a thin film, the velocity of which varies greatly at different sites. This variation appears to account for the site specificity of smooth-surface caries and supragingival calculus deposition. Saliva protects against dental caries, erosion, attrition, abrasion, candidiasis and the abrasive mucosal lesions seen commonly in patients with hyposalivation. These effects are the result of saliva's being a source of the acquired enamel pellicle; promoting the clearance of sugar and acid from the mouth; being supersaturated with respect to tooth mineral; containing buffers, urea for plaque base formation, and antibacterial and antifungal factors; and lubricating the oral mucosa, making it less susceptible to abrasive lesions.

Clinical implications: For optimal oral health, people should keep food and liquids in the mouth as briefly as possible. The most important time for toothbrushing is just before bedtime, because salivary flow is negligible during sleep and the protective effects of saliva are lost. Chewing sugar-free gum or sucking on sugar-free candies stimulates salivary flow, which benefits hard and soft oral tissues in many ways.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Cariogenic Agents / metabolism
  • Dental Caries / prevention & control*
  • Dental Pellicle / physiology*
  • Electrolytes
  • Humans
  • Lubrication
  • Metabolic Clearance Rate
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • Saliva / metabolism
  • Saliva / physiology*
  • Salivary Proteins and Peptides / physiology
  • Secretory Rate
  • Tooth Abrasion / prevention & control
  • Tooth Attrition / prevention & control
  • Tooth Erosion / prevention & control


  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Cariogenic Agents
  • Electrolytes
  • Salivary Proteins and Peptides