A New Role for Dentists

David WongResearchers at UCLA are working for a world where doctors need not draw your blood to test if you are sick and where we can put in place a procedure to save countless lives. Dr. David Wong and other scientists from UCLA School of Dentistry have been at the vanguard of research in the emerging field of salivary diagnostics. Salivary diagnostics has promising potential in the prediction and early detection of many oral and systemic diseases and disorders.

Imagine your next 6-month dental appointment going beyond an examination by your dentist and a routine prophylaxis from your hygienist. Instead, this time before you leave they ask you to spit on a small stick. There is something that looks unusual in your mouth and they want to run some tests. This ability to quickly and easily detect diseases by examining a drop of your saliva represents the potential to completely transform health care by allowing us to use saliva as a diagnostic medium.

Promising research on saliva testing indicates that in the near future, your dentist could be testing your saliva to check for life-threatening diseases, including diabetes and cancers of the pancreas, breasts, ovaries, and stomach. Saliva is far easier and cheaper to collect than blood and it does not expose health care professionals to blood-borne diseases. Further, saliva is readily accessible via a noninvasive method, which would dramatically reduce the anxiety and discomfort associated with blood tests, as well as simplify procurement of repeated samples for monitoring over time. In addition, saliva does not clot, thus lessening the manipulations required for diagnostic procedures. 

Approximately 20 percent of Americans visit their dentist more regularly than they do their primary care physician. When surveyed, more than 80 percent of dentists showed they would collect saliva samples for diagnostic evaluation. These facts, combined with the research advancements made in the field of salivary diagnostics, are pushing the role of the dental practitioner into primary health care and point-of-care testing.