Every day, your body produces roughly 50 ounces of saliva. (Ewww.) But you probably don’t give your spit much thought, even though it plays a vital role in your health.
For one thing, saliva is a natural mouth disinfectant, says American Dental Association spokesperson Kimberly Harms, DDS. “It helps maintain the health of your gums, prevent tooth decay, and wash away food particles, and it provides disease-fighting substances to prevent cavities and other infections,” she says.
While saliva keeps your mouth clean, the condition of your spit can also provide clues to other things going on in your body. Pay attention to these signs:
1. You seem to be running low.
It may be your meds. “Over 300 medications, like decongestants and antihistamines, cause dry mouth as a side effect,” Harms says. Desert mouth tends to spring up as you age and health concerns force you to take more medication, she adds. If you’re taking something and notice you’re parched, be extra vigilant about your dental hygiene to avoid cavities, Harms says. Floss daily, brush with a fluoride-containing toothpaste twice a day, and see your dentist for regular checkups.
Like a window to your insides, saliva tests can provide a ton of information about your genetic makeup and hormones. From diabetes to cancer, saliva holds promise as a diagnostic tool for diseases, much like a vial of your blood, suggests research published in Clinical Chemistry. A spit test can also assess your levels of hormones like melatonin, shows research from Northwestern University. That could provide doctors insight into your body’s circadian rhythms, and so help them make better sleeping, eating, and weight loss recommendations.4. It’s too acidic.
You can’t really taste the difference, but your mouth likes to be at or near a neutral pH (around 7), says Israel Kleinberg, DDS, PhD, a professor and division director in the Department of Oral Biology and Pathology at Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine. A dentist can quickly assess your pH with a spit strip or solution. If your pH is off, bacteria can multiply in the cozy nooks and crannies of your teeth. Acidic saliva can also erode your teeth and cause cavities, Kleinberg says. Eating foods rich in arginine, like red meat or poultry, can lower your saliva’s acidity. Kleinberg also recommends arginine-based BasicBites Soft Chews, which he helped develop. (Looking to balance your body’s acidic leaning? Then try The Good Gut Diet to get a good bacteria balance.)5. There’s too much of it.
You may be prego. Pregnant women tend to produce more saliva,research shows. This may be due to changing hormones or just be a side effect of feeling nauseated. There are no real risks, apart from potentially spitting at your friends when you talk. (In severe cases, some women have to spit the excess saliva into cups.) Popping a piece of gum or hard candy may help you swallow all that extra spit.
6. It’s bitter or sour.
You may have reflux. This condition can allow stomach acid to bubble up into your throat, producing that telltale icky flavor. Apart from a sour taste in your mouth and throat, the most common symptom of reflux is heartburn. You may also notice issues like bad breath or nausea. If your doc diagnoses reflux, he may suggest lifestyle changes like losing weight or skipping greasy and spicy foods.
7. It tastes tacky on your tongue.
You may be a mouth breather. Inhaling and exhaling through your nose is the best way to keep your mouth happily hydrated. Since saliva is your mouth’s natural disinfectant, without it bacteria and cavities thrive, Harms says. A study in General Dentistry also found that, in kids and adults, mouth breathing can point to health issues like sleep apnea. If you think mouth breathing is an issue, mention it to your dentist or doc during your next visit.