‘The importance of saliva in our everyday activities and the medicinal properties it possesses are often taken for granted’ (Tiwari 2011).
Whilst it may not be the most pleasant or attractive health topic, it is clear that to provide evidence-based care, nurses and healthcare professionals need to know about the bodily fluids that they may come in contact with when providing face-to-face patient care.
This article overviews some issues related to saliva.
Saliva: Did You Know?…
- The amount and quality of a person’s saliva can affect oral and other systematic health outcomes.
- Saliva is viewed differently depending on cultural and social context (e.g. some cultures think of saliva positively, and others negatively).
- Every person’s saliva is unique.
- Saliva contains important information like pathology and disease biomarkers.
- Saliva may be used as a diagnostic tool.
- Due to the ability to non-invasively attain saliva samples, it may be a more desirable resource for diagnostics and health monitoring activities.
- Radiotherapy to the head/neck region is used in treating some salivary gland functions and linked to dry-mouth issues.
Saliva and Kissing
Kissing is, of course, a common interaction that involves the transfer of saliva.
Wlodarski and Dunbar (2013) studied the possible functions of kissing, and concluded that kissing’s key purpose was not to increase arousal but to assess the suitability of a mate.
Kort et al. (2014) studied kissing behaviours and salivary microbiota.
The microbiota of the saliva appears to be more similar in couples than disconnected individuals (Kort et al. 2014). However, Kort et al. (2014) indicate that this higher similarity is likely due to a higher frequency of intimate kissing.
Interestingly, couples tested within an hour-and-a-half of a kiss or who have around nine or more kisses daily were more likely to share salivary microbiota (Kort et al. 2014).
Microbiology aside, Wlodarski and Dunbar maintain that partners’ kissing frequency remains a sign of relationship satisfaction (2013).
Saliva and Oral Health
Understanding oral bacteria is still an important part of oral and dental health.
Harmful oral bacteria may lead to health issues such as potential disease spread and risk for aspiration pneumonia (Better Health Channel 2014; Kikutani et al. 2014).
It was found in Kikutani et al.’s study that ‘(an) oral bacteria count of 108.5 colony-forming units/mL saliva in an elderly person requiring care was identified as a risk factor for pneumonia onset’ (2014).
Additionally, Whitmore and Lamont (2014) claim that ‘improved oral hygiene and treatment of periodontitis may be useful in limiting the development or spread of cancer.’
Evidently, there is a need for nurses and healthcare professionals to promote, deliver and train clients in the correct and ongoing oral hygiene practices and check-ups.
Javaid et al. (2016) explain that saliva can be used for diagnostic testing due to its biomarkers, genetic matter and proteins.
Salivary testing is described as not only being relatively easy but also cost-efficient. It is apparent that increased research into this field, as well as validation and establishment of guidelines, may all improve the use of salivary diagnostic tools (Javaid et al. 2016).
Dry Mouth Syndrome
Some other interesting studies related to saliva include those by Furness et al. (2013) and Riley et al. (2017) that investigated the prevention of dry mouth.
Furness et al. stated that there was not enough evidence to conclude whether electrostimulation was effective for prevention of dry mouth.
They also concluded that there was low-quality evidence that symptoms of dry mouth were no different between acupuncture or placebo treatment.
Yet, Furness et a.l also conveyed that there was some low-quality evidence that acupuncture may increase saliva in small amounts for people with dry mouth post radiotherapy (2013).
Riley et al. (2017) found in their study that the sensation of dry mouth may be prevented with the use of amifostine for participants undergoing head and neck radiotherapy.
This conclusion was made based on evidence of low-quality and the effects were short- or medium-term (2017).
It was also found that the people who received amifostine were more likely to experience adverse effects, e.g. vomiting and low blood pressure (Riley et al. 2017), thereby emphasising that the use of amifostine needs to be cautioned and that a risks-versus-benefits analysis should occur.
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- Better Health Channel (2014), Kissing and your health, Victoria State Government, viewed 29 March 2018, https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/kissing-and-your-health
- Furness, S, Bryan, G, McMillan, R, Birchenough, S & Worthington, HV 2013, ‘Interventions for the management of dry mouth: non-pharmacological interventions’, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, no. 9, viewed 29 March 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24006231
- Javaid, MA, Ahmed, AS, Durand, R & Tran, SD 2016, ‘Saliva as a diagnostic tool for oral and systemic diseases’, Journal of Oral Biology and Craniofacial Research, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 66–75, viewed 29 March 2018, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212426815000895
- Kikutani, T, Tamura, F, Tashiro, H, Yoshida, M, Konishi, K & Hamada, R 2015, ‘Relationship between oral bacteria count and pneumonia onset in elderly nursing home residents’, Geriatrics & Gerontology International, vol. 15, pp. 417–21, viewed 29 March 2018, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ggi.12286/abstract
- Kort, R, Caspers, M, van de Graaf, A, van Egmond, W, Keijser, B & Roeselers, G 2014, ‘Shaping the oral microbiota through intimate kissing’, Microbiome, vol. 2, no. 41, viewed 29 March 2018, https://microbiomejournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/2049-2618-2-41#Sec7
- Riley, P, Glenny, AM, Hua, F & Worthington, HV 2017, ‘Pharmacological interventions for preventing dry mouth and salivary gland dysfunction following radiotherapy’, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2017, no. 7, viewed 29 March 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28759701
- Tiwari, M 2011, ‘Science behind human saliva’, Journal of Natural Science, Biology, and Medicine, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 53–8, viewed 29 March 2018, http://www.jnsbm.org/article.asp?issn=0976-9668;year=2011;volume=2;issue=1;spage=53;epage=58;aulast=Tiwari
- Whitmore, SE & Lamont, RJ 2014, ‘Oral Bacteria and Cancer’, PLoS Pathog, vol. 10, no. 3, viewed 29 March 2018, http://journals.plos.org/plospathogens/article?id=10.1371/journal.ppat.1003933
- Wlodarski, R & Dunbar, RIM 2013, ‘Examining the Possible Functions of Kissing in Romantic Relationships’, Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol. 42, no. 8, pp. 1415–23, viewed 29 March 2018, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10508-013-0190-1
Madeline Gilkes focused her research project for her Master's of Healthcare Leadership on Health Coaching for Long-Term Weight Loss in Obese Adults. She also has a Graduate Certificate in Adult & Vocational Education, Graduate Certificate in Aged Care, Bachelor of Nursing, Certificate IV Weight Management and Certificate IV Frontline Management. Madeline is an academic and registered nurse. Her vision is to prevent lifestyle diseases, obesogenic environments, dementia and metabolic syndrome. She has spent the past years in the role of Clinical Facilitator and Clinical Nurse Specialist (Gerontology and Education).