Is Saliva the Future of Diagnosis?

Salivary Diagnosis

Dentists across the United States already know that saliva is essential for maintaining good oral health. Saliva helps to protect the teeth from the development of cavities, it dilutes sugars, and it even boasts antimicrobial properties to minimize the presence of bacteria that can cause bad breath. But saliva could also hold the key not only to oral health, but also to systemic health.

Why Saliva?

A watery, transparent liquid; saliva may look simple, but it’s actually more complex than many patients think. It contains a variety of proteins, antibodies, ions, hormones, and biomarkers for disease which are important ‘clues’ as to the likelihood of illness. Many of these biomarkers, and other chemicals and proteins, enter saliva through the bloodstream, so we can reasonably conclude that blood and saliva contain many of the same markers, with the mouth essentially becoming the ‘mirror’ of the body.

Traditionally in medicine, we’ve accessed these biomarkers through the blood in the form of routine blood testing, but salivary diagnosis could render many types of blood test obsolete in the near future. It is believed that there would be a number of benefits to switching from blood to salivary diagnosis:

* Salivary diagnosis could minimize the need for invasive, uncomfortable medical procedures, ultimately boosting patient satisfaction and encouraging more Americans to visit their doctor.

* There is the potential for salivary diagnosis to reduce the risk associated with blood drawing procedures, such as bruising, discomfort, infection, excessive bleeding, and dizziness/faintness.

* It is possible that salivary diagnosis could ultimately facilitate better medical outcomes by making screening for disease much more accessible, especially to those with aichmophobia – a fear of needles.

* Experts hope that patients will be able to access treatment more quickly, due to reduced testing times. A saliva-based HIV test is capable of producing accurate results in as little as 20 minutes.

* The safety of laboratory assistants and research could be improved. For example, saliva is widely understood to reduce the infectivity of HIV, boosting the safety of handling patient samples.

There are a number of different diseases and conditions that are believed to have oral manifestations, including diabetes, HIV, hepatitis A, B, and C, the ebola virus, malaria, and tuberculosis. There are also many studies looking at whether salivary diagnosis could possibly be used for detecting certain cancers.

The Salivary Diagnosis Journey

Oral diagnosis certainly isn’t a new concept. In fact, the first oral thermometer, which was designed to identify abnormal temperatures which could indicate illness, was invented back in 1612 by Santorio Santorio. It is, therefore, slightly surprising that it has taken so long to make salivary diagnosis a primary focus. Regardless, it is fully expected that with further understanding and continued funding, portable oral diagnosis kits, which produce chairside results, will become a standard addition in many dental practices across the United States in the near future. It appears that dentists are supporting these new methods of testing, with the UCLA School of Dentistry reporting that more than 80 percent of US-based dentists would be happy to collect saliva samples for diagnosis.

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