Antimicrobial function of human saliva--how important is it for oral health?

Acta Odontol Scand. 1998 Oct;56(5):250-6. doi: 10.1080/000163598428400.


Human saliva contains a number of physical physicochemical, and chemical agents that protect oral tissues against noxious compounds, in particular those produced by various microorganisms. Among such protective factors, the flushing effect of saliva flow is the most important one, not only because it so effectively removes exogenous and endogenous microorganisms and their products into the gut but also because a steady supply of saliva guarantees continuous presence of both non-immune and immune factors in the mouth. A great number of studies with controversial results have been published regarding various individual agents and their possible association to oral health, particularly to dental caries. It appears that no single chemical agent is far more important than the others. For example, patients with selective IgA deficiency have normal levels of non-immune defense factors and often display a compensatory increase in the other immunoglobulin isotypes. The concerted action of all agents in whole saliva, both saliva- and serum-derived, provides a multifunctional protective network that is collapsed only if salivary flow rate is substantially reduced. In this mixture of defense factors, many show additive or even synergistic interactions against oral pathogens. Increased knowledge of the molecular functions of various agents has made it possible to prepare oral hygiene product that include host-derived antimicrobial agents instead of synthetic agents. Although the clinical efficacy of such products is still unsatisfactory and poorly described, new technologies, for example in the production of specific antibodies against oral pathogens, may considerably improve the antimicrobial power of these products.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Infective Agents*
  • Dental Caries / microbiology
  • Dental Caries / prevention & control
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate*
  • Immunoglobulin Isotypes / physiology
  • Mouth / microbiology
  • Periodontal Diseases / microbiology
  • Periodontal Diseases / prevention & control
  • Peroxidases / metabolism
  • Saliva / enzymology
  • Saliva / immunology
  • Saliva / physiology*
  • Salivary Proteins and Peptides / physiology
  • Secretory Rate
  • Thiocyanates


  • Anti-Infective Agents
  • Immunoglobulin Isotypes
  • Salivary Proteins and Peptides
  • Thiocyanates
  • hypothiocyanite ion
  • Peroxidases