Skip to main page content
Access keys NCBI Homepage MyNCBI Homepage Main Content Main Navigation
, 24, 40-51

Antimicrobial Defense Systems in Saliva


Antimicrobial Defense Systems in Saliva

Wim van 't Hof et al. Monogr Oral Sci.


The oral cavity is one of the most heavily colonized parts of our body. The warm, nutrient-rich and moist environment promotes the growth of a diverse microflora. One of the factors responsible for the ecological equilibrium in the mouth is saliva, which in several ways affects the colonization and growth of bacteria. In this paper, we discuss the various mechanisms by which the composition of the oral microflora is modulated by saliva. Saliva covers the oral hard and soft tissues with a conditioning film which governs the initial attachment of microorganisms, a crucial step in the setup of the oral microflora. It furthermore contains proteins which in the soluble phase bind to bacteria, blocking their adherence to surfaces. When the supply of nutrients is diminished, bacteria use salivary glycoproteins, especially high-molecular-weight mucins, as a source of complex carbohydrates, requiring a consortium of microorganisms for breakdown. In this way saliva promotes the complexity of the oral microflora, which in itself protects against overgrowth by few pathogenic species. Finally, saliva harbors a large panel of antimicrobial proteins which directly and indirectly inhibit uncontrolled outgrowth of bacteria. These include lactoferrin, lactoperoxidase, lysozyme and antimicrobial peptides. Under pathological conditions serum leakage occurs, and saliva mobilizes the humoral and cellular defense mechanisms in the blood. In sum, saliva favors the establishment of a highly diverse microflora, rather than a semisterile environment.

Similar articles

  • Influence of Saliva on the Oral Microbiota
    PD Marsh et al. Periodontol 2000 70 (1), 80-92. PMID 26662484. - Review
    Saliva plays a major role in determining the composition and activity of the oral microbiota, via a variety of mechanisms. Molecules, mainly from saliva, form a condition …
  • Salivary Proteins: Protective and Diagnostic Value in Cariology?
    A Van Nieuw Amerongen et al. Caries Res 38 (3), 247-53. PMID 15153696. - Review
    Saliva is essential for a lifelong conservation of the dentition. Various functions of saliva are implicated in the maintenance of oral health and the protection of our t …
  • The Role of Natural Salivary Defences in Maintaining a Healthy Oral Microbiota
    AM Lynge Pedersen et al. J Dent 80 Suppl 1, S3-S12. PMID 30696553.
    A balanced oral microbiome is important for the maintenance of oral health and symbiosis. Conditions associated with salivary gland hypofunction, impaired oral clearance, …
  • Saliva and Dental Plaque
    JD Rudney. Adv Dent Res 14, 29-39. PMID 11842921. - Review
    Dental plaque is being redefined as oral biofilm. Diverse overlapping microbial consortia are present on all oral tissues. Biofilms are structured, displaying features li …
  • [Influence of Saliva on Plaque Development]
    A van Nieuw Amerongen. Ned Tijdschr Tandheelkd 98 (3), 92-3. PMID 1961328.
    Since salivary proteins can bind to bacterial surfaces, their adherence to oral mucosa and tooth surface will be prevented. The same salivary proteins adsorb, however, al …
See all similar articles

Cited by 18 PubMed Central articles

See all "Cited by" articles

MeSH terms


LinkOut - more resources