Dentists Could Soon Diagnose Cancer By Looking At Your Saliva

New tools that extract disease biomarkers from saliva could make your dentist your first line of diagnostic defense.
U.S. Navy

Your dentist could soon be your new doctor. Don’t cancel your annual physical just yet, but promising research coming out of UCLA’s School of Dentistry suggests that salivary diagnostics–or “salivaomics”–could become a potent resource for early detection of a broad range of potential health problems like autoimmune diseases, diabetes and even life-threatening conditions like cancer.

In a paper published in the Journal of the American Dental Association, UCLA researcher Dr. David Wong describes his research into the biological makeup of saliva and the various indicators of health that live there. Human saliva is made up of molecules, after all, and in those complex molecules doctors or dentists looking for the right things can find everything from proteins to DNA to RNA–or basically the entire genome and a slew of other supporting characters. With these molecules identified and isolated researchers can then apply any number of scientific tools to them–things like gemomics, proteomics, and transcriptomics (putting the “omics” in “salivaomics”).

Salivary diagnostics itself is a relatively young field, but diagnosis through biomarkers is not and that’s essentially what this is. The difference, of course, is that it is extremely non-invasive, requiring nothing more than a saliva sample. Wong and associates think saliva could be just as meaningful as blood and other bodily fluids in diagnosing a range of conditions and disorders.

The authors note that 20 percent more Americans see their dentists more often than their doctors, so salivaomics deployed in the dentist’s office could become an effective tool for early detection of any number of common ailments–without the patient ever stepping foot in the doctor’s exam room. That means your dentist could soon become the first line of diagnostic defense against conditions affecting not just your oral health but your entire body.