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Salivary Health Risk Clues and Biomarker Testing
© 2018 Health Realizations, Inc. Update

Saliva is not just any old “fluid” -- it has many functions within your mouth. For instance, it helps to clean your mouth, digest food and fight decay. Saliva also contains a vast number of proteins, peptides, electrolytes, nucleic acids and hormones that support many important functions of oral health, including providing antibacterial activity.

Salivary testing can give you critical clues about what is going on inside your body.

If your salivary glands don’t function properly, it can lead to serious consequences, like the oral disease xerostomia. This is accompanied by an almost non-existent amount of salivary excretion and causes rampant tooth decay.

You may be surprised to learn that saliva also carries many of the same proteins and molecules found within blood and urine. With similarities to blood and urine, can salivary biomarkers also be used to test for clues to diagnose diseases, like blood and urine are? The exciting answer to that question is yes!

What are Salivary Biomarkers?

Scientists had considered using salivary biomarkers for diagnostic testing for many years. Biomarkers are materials used in biomedicine to discern which stage of biology that the test subject is currently experiencing. Biomarkers show chemical and pathological reactions, along with the effects those reactions are having. Most people use biomarkers in their own daily lives and don't even realize it. For example, when your check your blood pressure or pulse rate, you are checking biomarkers. Blood pressure and pulse are two biomarkers that can tell you how well your heart is working.

The interest in salivary biomarkers was highly increased when the National Institute of Dental & Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) made a significant investment in salivary research and completed a preliminary list of the proteins contained in saliva. There were a staggering 1,166 proteins on the list, and the good news did not stop there.

Studies showed that breast cancer, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer's disease each left a specific and unique signature in saliva. Even more impressive, proteins that are related to activity within the heart, including those proteins that are elevated during a heart attack, are found within saliva as well. An additional diagnostic tool found in saliva is salivary transcriptome. This resource, found only in saliva, can be used for the diagnosis of oral cancer and Sjögren's syndrome.

Saliva used as a diagnostic tool can offer many different advantages over blood and urine. Saliva can be collected much easier, as it is a non-invasive procedure. It is also possible that testing saliva provides a cost-effective answer to screening large populations, as blood serum testing is generally more expensive. Whole saliva can be used to test for systemic diseases of the body since it contains the same markers as blood serum constituents. Saliva may even be used for diagnosis of many hereditary disorders, infectious and autoimmune diseases, malignant diseases and autoimmune disorders. It can also detect levels of medication within your body and be used to monitor for illicit drug use.

Saliva: Providing New Clues into Your Health

Saliva is also beginning to provide clues about many systemic diseases and disorders. For example, there are now rapid result tests for HIV utilizing saliva or oral mucosal fluids. These rapid tests facilitate easy sample collection of the saliva and also allow for testing of more than one subject. These advances are pivotal in the testing of people who prefer non-traditional settings for their testing. They also make great strides to provide access to testing for at-risk, economically challenged or medically underserved parts of the public.

Salivary testing also helps to provide each subject with quick results and rapid assessment for public health emergency cases. Continued progress in salivary research and biomarkers will provide additional saliva-based tests, which can be used for regular health screening and health surveillance for cancers and other life-threatening disorders.

The easy collection of saliva is also useful in the determination of hormone levels. These hormones include estrogen, progesterone, DHEA, testosterone and cortisol. These levels are extremely useful in the detection of estradiol levels, since it can be an indicator of premature birth and low birth weight.

Salivary drug levels can also be tested as a viable substitute to blood tests in many cases. Saliva can be used when testing for drug abuse or screening for the use of illegal drugs. It can be used to detect cocaine, ethanol and opiate drugs. The same detection tests can be used to provide therapeutic monitoring for medications that are taken on a daily basis, but require a determination of proper dosage and administration. For example, saliva testing can be used for the therapeutic monitoring of digoxin, methadone or anticonvulsant medications. As research advances the understanding of salivary biomarkers, the need for disease monitoring in oral and systemic conditions also increases. Saliva may possibly become useful in the study of genetics and genetic risk factors.

Saliva Useful in the Fight Against Bioterrorism?

Saliva plays an important role in the detection of oral cancers, tooth decay and the digestion of food.

Another exciting use for salivary testing is in the fight against bioterrorism. While it may be surprising to think that the latest and greatest defense in the war on terrorism may be your own saliva, the science proves the importance of this test. A small toothbrush-sized test was developed by the Navy and provides a rapid result. The test is inexpensive and gives an easy way to determine if protection levels against anthrax are adequate. The test strip samples a small collection of saliva and it changes color within mere minutes.

A color guide lets the test administrator know if immunization status is stable or not. This non-invasive salivary test replaced a blood test that was slow, expensive and invasive. The salivary test can also be used to rapidly let military troops know they are protected against anthrax when they are on the battlefield. It is also a test that provides great results for healthcare workers or first responders who need quick determinations for treatment needs.

Salivary Biomarkers Testing Stress

In 2006, Penn State released research that showed how a simple salivary test could offer an innovative way to show real and physical consequences of caffeine and stress in the body. The study, presented at the annual meeting of American Psychosomatic Association Society in Denver, consisted of 45 healthy men who presented to the lab and provided saliva samples for testing.

Salivary biomarker testing provides researchers with quick and convenient ways of measuring stress hormone levels, including DHEA and cortisol, which are classified as adrenal or stress hormones. DHEA and cortisol serve as biomarkers for stress and they regulate how your body reacts during times of stressful situations.

The Future of Salivary Testing

Within the medical and dental community, there is great enthusiasm for the possibilities of salivary diagnostic technology. Researchers believe that salivary testing can benefit everyone who is interested in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and achieving a more health-conscious way of testing.

With salivary diagnostics as a new preferred manner of testing, people with different medical or dental concerns will each be able to turn to the same technology for rapid results. With tests that can detect markers for cancer, heart disease, stroke, stress, HIV or oral disease, the future for salivary testing is limitless. Due to the ease of collection, the privacy and convenience of testing, and the economically priced tests, many people will no longer be dependant upon a medical professional and a laboratory to discover what is going on inside their body!


The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Vol. 7, No.3

American Dental Association: Potential Salivary Biomarkers Identified for Detecting Primary Sjogren's Syndrome

Arthritis & Rheumatism Volume 56, Issue 11, pages 3588–3600,

Science News

Critical Reviews in Oral Biology & Medicine vol. 13 no. 2 197-212

Science Daily

Science Daily

New Defense Against Bioterrorism

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