Salivary secretion in health and disease

J Oral Rehabil. 2018 Sep;45(9):730-746. doi: 10.1111/joor.12664. Epub 2018 Jun 25.


Saliva is a complex fluid produced by 3 pairs of major salivary glands and by hundreds of minor salivary glands. It comprises a large variety of constituents and physicochemical properties, which are important for the maintenance of oral health. Saliva not only protects the teeth and the oropharyngeal mucosa, it also facilitates articulation of speech, and is imperative for mastication and swallowing. Furthermore, saliva plays an important role in maintaining a balanced microbiota. Thus, the multiple functions provided by saliva are essential for proper protection and functioning of the body as a whole and for the general health. A large number of diseases and medications can affect salivary secretion through different mechanisms, leading to salivary gland dysfunction and associated oral problems, including xerostomia, dental caries and fungal infections. The first part of this review article provides an updated insight into our understanding of salivary gland structure, the neural regulation of salivary gland secretion, the mechanisms underlying the formation of saliva, the various functions of saliva and factors that influence salivary secretion under normal physiological conditions. The second part focuses on how various diseases and medical treatment including commonly prescribed medications and cancer therapies can affect salivary gland structure and function. We also provide a brief insight into how to diagnose salivary gland dysfunction.

Keywords: autonomic nervous system; saliva; salivary dysfunction; salivary glands; xerostomia.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Mastication / physiology*
  • Oral Health*
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • Saliva / physiology*
  • Salivary Glands / anatomy & histology
  • Salivary Glands / physiology*
  • Salivation / physiology*
  • Xerostomia / physiopathology*