Saliva is a secretion from specialized glands around the jaw that should be clear, tasteless and slightly acidic. The functions of saliva include moistening and lubricating the food before swallowing, initiating digestion and acting as an antiseptic. Saliva enhances the taste of food by its initial breakdown action on sugars making the molecules more available for the taste buds.
Saliva is produced in the parotid, submandibular and sublingual glands. Two little holes in the cheeks are the end points of the parotid duct and may be isolated by gently sucking and feeling the slightly cool saliva entering the oral cavity. Two little fronds are felt at the front of the mouth under the tongue which are the end points of the other glands. The glands are under the control of the nervous system, which may be stimulated by the sight and smell of food and even by the sound of cooking. This is a conditioned reflex much studied by Pavlov . Once food is in the mouth, other nerve reflexes continue saliva production.
Hypersalivation Excess salivation is most commonly associated with a hypersensitivity of smell and taste. This commonly occurs with fevers and in pregnancy due to heat or to hormones sensitizing the nervous system. Injury or pain in the mouth, such as in teething in infants or disease at a later age, will also initiate hypersalivation. Any disease of the nervous system that causes impulses to be poorly controlled may also stimulate salivation. Such conditions are most commonly seen in Alzheimer’s and motorneurone disease. Dyspepsia and other digestive problems may increase secretions throughout the gut, including the mouth.
Taste and smell may be diminished by habits such as smoking or persistently eating too spicy or too sweet foods. The taste buds get used to a potent chemical effect, leaving less powerful tastes unobserved. Stopping these habits will allow the taste buds to regain their sensitivity within a matter of days but in the process the overstimulation from these rediscovered tastes may lead to excessive salivation.
Any persistent excessive salivation should be reviewed by a GP or specialist to isolate an underlying cause that may be treatable.
Occasional bouts may be relieved by the homeopathic remedy Mercurius 6, four pills four times a day for three days.
More intensive homeopathic work or herbal treatments for excess salivation should be prescribed by a complementary medical practitioner once the diagnosis is known, because suppression of the symptom by a ‘drying’ action may suppress an early symptom of a condition better treated in its early stages .
Certain drugs, especially chemotherapeutic drugs, can create hypersalivation through their effects either on the nervous system or on the blood supply, causing an overstimulation of the salivary glands.
Pseudosalivation may occur not because of an excess production but because the saliva cannot be swallowed. This is usually associated with neuromuscular conditions which may be very difficult to treat.
Acupuncture may relieve symptoms but should be used in conjunction with herbal treatments as prescribed by a complementary specialist.
Hyposalivation Hyposalivation occurs because of damage to the salivary glands or a diminished nerve or blood supply to them. This may occur through age or disease as the nerves become less sensitive, especially those of taste. Disease processes such as sarcoidosis may directly affect the salivary gland tissue as may viral infection. Diuretics, antihistamines, certain heart drugs and most drugs that affect the neurological system can have an effect, although usually temporary.
Adrenaline and other catecholamines – the stress chemicals – all suppress bowel activity, including the production of saliva. This is very marked in moments of extreme fear, when the mouth can become parched, but it will have a general effect to some degree in people who are nervous or anxious.
Dehydration will, of course, lead to a dry mouth and this is part of the first recognition mechanisms . Please note that smoking may have a drying effect as may the intake of any ‘heat’-increasing compounds, such as spicy food. High sugar levels will encourage a dehydrating effect and saliva may thicken, causing a dry effect without any actual diminution in production. We all notice a dry mouth after sucking on a sweet or eating an ice cream.
Isolate the cause by discussions with a complementary medical practitioner or a GP. Treat the underlying cause, bearing in mind that the cessation of doctor-prescribed drugs may be dangerous.
Ensure adequate hydration. Drink half a pint of water per foot of height per day.
There are many homeopathic remedies for a dry mouth and the correct one should be selected on general symptoms. Whilst assessing the underlying cause try Nux moschata 30 four times a day.
Learn and practise a relaxation or meditation technique or consider counselling if anxiety is a notable aspect of the personality.