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How Salivary Glands Work

The Gland System

Salivary gland structure

Our salivary glands are small, multi tasking organs, helping to make life viable, as well as much more comfortable.

Whilst we think of saliva as a single fluid in our mouth, different glands can produce thin, or thicker mucus, each containing a variety of compounds.

Bicarbonate ions help to keep acidity levels balanced, enzymes such as amylase, or lipase break down starches and fats, lysozymes serve as a chemical defence against bacteria entering our system.

The volume and type of saliva we produce is controlled by the autonomic nervous system, the same network which manages other core functions, such a breathing, heart rate and digestion.

The system is regulated by the hypothalamus area of our brain, your body’s coordinating centre, which is why we at times produce saliva for psychological, as well as practical reasons.

One of the practical aspects is evaporative cooling. This is not now so vital to humans, as we evolved millions of sweat glands, the majority of other functions do still support key parts of life’s needs.

A Valuable Resource

How salivary glands work is essentially about what they do for us. When they are not working correctly, we miss out on:

  • General cleaning of teeth, or gums and prevention of tooth decay.
  • Lubricating the passage of food and preventing internal abrasions.
  • Breaking down what we eat, or drink, initially and in the stomach.
  • Making food suitably soluble and open to stimulate our taste buds.
  • Preventing microbial growth and keeping a balanced internal system.

Unseen Processes

Whatever sets your mouth watering, this feels a simple, natural process. The reality is a mosaic of chemical actions and organic tissues working together, to give you the protection, or assistance your body requires.

Although there are a small number of main glands, they are built from millions of secreting cells, with a complex, small duct system feeding delivery ducts.

Within the ducts, the composition of saliva can change from the formula created by the secreting cells. A continuous process, to achieve the balance of bicarbonate, phosphates and sodium you need.

The balanced system evolution has given us is a minor miracle and not too hard to put out of sync, through crystallized saliva deposits, cysts, growths, infections, or a range of medical conditions.

So if you have a problem, don’t feel alone. Salivary gland treatment is however an established, successful science, restoring good function is almost always possible.