Most people assume that dental research is confined to teeth and oral tissues, but a recent article in Nature proves this is far from the case. According to the article, research into oral conditions can be an indication as to overall health, especially as many of the molecules found in the blood are also found in saliva, although at much lower levels.
Saliva testing could be a much less invasive way of discovering a patient’s risk for disease, and the tests could be carried out in the dental or doctor’s office. Patients could even collect their own saliva specimens at home, and this type of sampling would be far more pleasant for older people and young children. It could prove to be very cost effective as well.
Possible links between gum disease and other serious health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes have already been well documented, and have raised the question as to whether improvements in oral health could help prevent or manage these conditions. DNA from oral bacteria has already been found in plaque which builds up in blood vessels and the synovial fluid of joints, leading to questions as to whether bacteria could cause heart attacks or prosthetic joint failure.
Over the last decade, researchers have been increasingly interested in the connection between oral and systemic health, and the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research has invested $65.6 million into salivary diagnostics research during this period. In 2008 an inventory of proteins secreted by the saliva glands was published. In England, the UK Biobank is a project which has already collected around 130,000 saliva samples, and eventually aims to collate data and samples from around 500,000 people. In 2008 researchers in the UK and the United States launched a joint collaboration, named the Human Oral Microbiome Database, which at the moment contains the genome sequences of around 270 different microbes which have been found during infection of the oral cavity.
The potential information found in saliva could be enormous, as researchers are already investigating the presence of bio markers for hear disease, oral cancer, and auto immune diseases. They are looking for mechanisms that can explain how disease in another organ can affect the composition of saliva. Other researchers are looking for by markers in a range of conditions including Alzheimer’s disease. In spite of this untapped potential, many people are still sitting on the fence over the usefulness of the information found in saliva, as it has yet to be proven whether tests using saliva are comparable with tests using other bodily fluids.
It’s hoped that with sufficient genome data, scientists will be able to make further connections between oral bacteria and disease, and will increase their knowledge as to how these bacteria interact with each other, and how they may affect systemic diseases.