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Using Saliva to Diagnose Disease

Saliva is very important for good oral health. It keeps mouth tissue moist, it aids in digestion, and it helps wash away harmful bacteria from our teeth. Now organizations, such as the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, are providing substantial funding to investigate saliva as a diagnostic tool.

Why Saliva?
There are a number of advantages that saliva testing has over other diagnostic methods:

  • It is far less intrusive than blood tests – no needles are required.
  • Unless the patient is suffering from dry mouth (xerostomia), saliva is readably available.
  • Saliva contains a number of disease biomarkers that help identify illnesses.
  • Saliva testing is well suited to situations where testing needs to be done over time because multiple samples are easy to collect.
  • It is easier and safer to handle and test.
  • It can lower the overall cost of testing.
How Is Saliva Testing Being Used?
Researchers are looking into the many ways saliva can be used to diagnose illness. Two promising areas are the early detection of periodontal disease and cancer.

Periodontal disease is a leading cause of tooth loss. Gingival crevicular fluid has been used as an early detector, but it is expensive, time-consuming, needs lab processing, and requires multiple sampling from a tooth. Researchers are looking into testing saliva as a less expensive and easier to collect method of early detection of the disease.

Clinical trials have begun in Australia to determine if testing saliva could lead to detecting cancers before symptoms show up and problems arise. Researchers have reported that the technology shows great promise and could lead to saving thousands of lives.

The Future?
There are companies working to provide the necessary diagnostic tools for the dental office, which will change the role of the dentist and dental hygienist in prevention, risk assessment, and disease management.

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