Fact or Myth: Could Licking Your Wounds…Aid Healing?

This is a MYTH.

It may sound like science fiction but there is indeed a component found in human saliva that accelerates wound healing.

No, you shouldn’t start dragging your tongue over various bites, scratches and burns on your skin. As there are approximately 600 different varieties of bacteria in the mouth and more than 100 million present at any given time, literally “licking your wounds” would deliver those germs directly into your bloodstream.

Despite the humid, germ-friendly environment found in your mouth – sores, cuts, gaping wounds left behind after extractions and burns heal faster inside the mouth than any other area of the body.

Scientists have isolated a protein in saliva as the miracle healing worker. Until recently, this protein was thought to simply kill excess bacteria found throughout your mouth. Now these proteins: histatin 1 (Hst1) and histatin 2 (Hst2) have been isolated as “wound closers.”

How Saliva Is Being Used As a Wound Healer

Researchers grew cells from the inside scrapings of the human cheek in order to create a wound, then treated half with isotonic fluid – a blood-like substance – and the other half with saliva. wound healing

The saliva treated wound showed significant healing in less than one day while the other sample wounds were still “open.” Researchers then isolated each component of human saliva and finally narrowed the results down to histatin.

Gerald Weissmann, MD said, “This study explains why wounds in the mouth, like those of a tooth extraction, heal much faster than comparable wounds of the skin and bone. It also directs us to begin looking at saliva as a source for new drugs.”

Burns, traumatic injuries, diabetes and other disorders can result in chronic wound healing that take far too long to heal, leaving the body susceptible to massive infections and a weakened immune system.

Topical medicated creams based on the histatin compound may someday be as common as antibiotic ointment and burn cream.

Hope for Patients with HIV/AIDS

In a study published by the Journal of Experimental Medicine, researchers identified another protein in human saliva called thrombospondin (TSP) that blocks the growth of the HIV/AIDS viruses.

Dr. Jeffrey Laurence, Director of the Laboratory for AIDS Virus Research, explained his team’s findings, “There is so little HIV virus in saliva, while large amounts of the virus are found in other body fluids…human saliva is so effective at blocking the growth of the AIDS virus in the test tube.

TSP is effective against both laboratory-adapted strains of HIV-1 and HIV-1 patient isolates [samples taken from HIV/AIDS positive patients].”

Thrombospondin is too large to administer to patients but the much smaller TSP peptides could be used to prevent the virus from binding to immune system cells.

“TSP derivatives could potentially be used vaginally, rectally and orally in condoms, foams, suppositories, mouthwashes and toothpastes to inhibit transmission of the AIDS virus,” said Dr. Ralph Nachman, Chairman of the Department of Medicine.

The Spitting Image

Scientists agree that isolating the helpful proteins in saliva that aid in faster wound healing is the greater portion of the battle to recreate and manufacture a synthetic version. Saliva is more than 99% water, which means the quantities of these compounds are minute – and yet obviously powerful.

It was more complex than one might think to decode the composition of spit. Now the possibilities are endless.