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Crit Rev Oral Biol Med. 2000;11(2):216-29.

Role of saliva in the maintenance of taste sensitivity.

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Department of Oral Physiology, Okayama University Dental School, Japan.


Saliva is the principal fluid component of the external environment of the taste receptor cells and, as such, could play a role in taste sensitivity. Its main role includes transport of taste substances to and protection of the taste receptor. In the initial process of taste perception, saliva acts as a solvent for taste substances; salivary water dissolves taste substances, and the latter diffuse to the taste receptor sites. During this process, some salivary constituents chemically interact with taste substances. For example, salivary buffers (e.g., bicarbonate ions) decrease the concentration of free hydrogen ions (sour taste), and there are some salivary proteins which may bind with bitter taste substances. Another effect of saliva on taste transduction is that some salivary constituents can continuously stimulate the taste receptor, resulting in an alteration of taste sensitivity. For example, the taste detection threshold for NaCl is slightly above the salivary sodium concentrations with which the taste receptor is continuously stimulated. In contrast, saliva protects the taste receptor from damage brought about by dryness and bacterial infection, and from disuse atrophy via a decrease in transport of taste stimuli to the receptor sites. This is a long-term effect of saliva that may be related to taste disorders. These various effects of saliva on the taste perception differ depending on the anatomical relationship between the taste buds and oral openings of the ducts of the salivary glands. Many taste buds are localized in the trenches of the foliate and circumvallate papillae, where the lingual minor salivary glands (von Ebner's glands) secrete saliva. Taste buds situated at the surface of the anterior part of the tongue and soft palate are bathed with the mixed saliva secreted mainly by the three major salivary glands.

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