Saliva is essential for a lifelong conservation of the dentition. Various functions of saliva are implicated in the maintenance of oral health and the protection of our teeth: (i) The tooth surface is continuously protected against wear by a film of salivary mucins and proline-rich glycoprotein. (ii) The early pellicle proteins, proline-rich proteins and statherin, promote remineralization of the enamel by attracting calcium ions. (iii) Demineralization is retarded by the pellicle proteins, in concert with calcium and phosphate ions in saliva and in the plaque fluid. (iv) Several salivary (glyco)proteins prevent the adherence of oral microorganisms to the enamel pellicle and inhibit their growth. (v) The salivary bicarbonate/carbonate buffer system is responsible for rapid neutralization of acids. An overview is presented on the major antimicrobial systems in human saliva. Not only the well-known major salivary glycoproteins, including mucins, proline-rich glycoprotein and immunoglobulins, but also a number of minor salivary (glyco)proteins, including agglutinin, lactoferrin, cystatins and lysozyme, are involved in the first line of defense in the oral cavity. Besides, small cationic antimicrobial peptides, e.g. defensins, cathelicidin and the histatins, have come into focus. These are potentially suited as templates for the design of a new generation of antibiotics, since they kill a broad spectrum of microorganisms, while hardly evoking resistance, in contrast to the classical antibiotics.