How would you feel if you couldn’t taste or swallow your food? How about if speaking was uncomfortable? Having a dry mouth, or not having enough saliva, can cause these unpleasant symptoms.
Most people don’t know all the uses of saliva or the importance of it. Take a listen to our podcast below to see for yourself.
Audio source: Own project group
As was mentioned in the podcast, saliva is necessary not only for digestion of food, but also for tasting, oral health, prevention of bad breath, chewing, fighting germs, preventing tooth decay and communication. Researcher Hal Clark and his team looked into saliva loss resulting in a condition called xerostomia, more commonly known as dry mouth.
Xerostomia is known to cause a decrease in patient’s quality of life, such as discomfort in speaking and swallowing, pain and possibly anxiety and sleep disturbance. So what causes xerostomia? One of the main causes of xerostomia is linked to radiation therapy for patients with head-and-neck cancers. Radiation therapy consists of targeting X-rays to the area of the tumor (external) or inserting a device near the tumor that emits radiation. Hal Clark and his team investigate loss of saliva due to dose of radiation therapy, or amount of X-rays, for head-and-neck cancer patients.
In this recent study, patients underwent radiotherapy treatment for head-and-neck cancers at the BC Cancer Agency. The researchers collected saliva output from the patients 3 months and one year after radiation therapy. Hal then compared this output with that of baseline, or the saliva output before radiation therapy. Clark found that the average loss of saliva after 3 months was 72% of baseline and the average loss after 1 year was 56% of baseline. To conclude his study, Hal suggested a minimum radiation dose to the main salivary gland to greatly reduce the chances of xerostomia.
In the following video, Hal and his supervisor, Dr. Steven Thomas explain saliva output measurements and radiation therapy treatment.
Video source: Own project interview
The machine seen in the following video of the patient’s point of view when receiving radiation treatment is the same technology that Hal Clark and his team used for radiation treatment in their study.
Video source: Thomas Ashley from Vimeo
The level of saliva output affects the patients’ quality of life. Therefore, to reduce the side effect of radiation treatment, researchers are working hard to find the right balance between killing the tumor and maintaining the saliva output of patients. Tasting, swallowing and even speaking would be uncomfortable and painful if you had xerostomia. To put it simply, the fact that efforts are being made to reduce dry mouth shows that our saliva is important. So…don’t forget about your spit!
Surekha Gangar, Seungwon (David) Lee, Jay Wong, Uttara Kumar