Is Saliva the Key to Better Health?

November 10, 2013 - Back in 2004, the National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research released a survey indicating that 92% of adults (and 42% of children) have tooth decay. Greater than 90% of adults have gum disease. Worst of all, over 65% of 15 year olds have active gum disease.  (Their study excluded the five percent of the population that does not have any teeth.)  More recent research demonstrates a clear relationship between decreased saliva production and the increase in gum disease associated with aging.  

One method of increasing saliva involves swishing oil in the mouth.  While some cultures have been "pulling oil" for generations, the taste and texture of a mouthful of oil takes getting used to for most people.  Instead, I recommend starting with a simple technique of swishing saliva vigorously in your mouth for a minute or two. Not only does this increase the amount of saliva in your mouth, dilute acid and remineralize teeth - it also aids digestion in the stomach.   So, give your saliva production a boost and we can help you monitor your progress during your next visit.  (Please note that your diet must include enough healthy minerals to enable your saliva to support remineralization.)  For further information, see the OraWellness video "Mouth Probiotics," which explains how and why saliva works to improve oral health.

This research is ongoing, so stay tuned for more compelling reasons to swish.  Meanwhile, I continue to follow the progress in the field of salivary diagnostics with great interest.   Invasive blood tests require a visit to a doctor, take time to analyze and often only detect the presence of advanced disease.  Therefore, salivary diagnostic tools show promise as a rapid, automated and portable means of monitoring health.  With this in mind, NIH funded “Salivary biomarkers for early oral cancer detection” and “Salivary proteomic and genomic biomarkers for primary Sjogren’s Syndrome” in 2010.  These two studies were among the first to catalog the genes and proteins that are expressed in saliva.  

This September, for the first time, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded research to develop biological markers in saliva for disease detection.  The NIH granted $5 million to the University of California Los Angeles School of Dentistry to develop biological markers in saliva as a means of creating tests that identify stomach cancer and other systemic diseases.  

Dr. David T. Wong

Dr. David T. Wong

Dr. David T. Wong, one of my mentors, a pioneer in salivary diagnostics and the University of California Los Angeles School of Dentistry's associate dean of research, explains, "Saliva can be used for oral disease detection. Great. But if saliva can be used to detect non-oral disease, systemic disease, that really puts it in a different place in terms of clinical impact." 

Ongoing studies indicate that patterns in saliva samples may be useful for detecting cancers, heart disease, diabetes, periodontal diseases and other conditions in a matter of minutes.  In the future, as technical devices continue to become smaller, dentists may be able to connect a monitor to a patient's tooth to register medication levels and biomarkers for specific diseases.   

To learn more about hormones and antibodies that can be detected in human saliva, watch this educational video that was released two weeks ago to explain the clinical application of these new salivary diagnostic tools.

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