Bulletin of Dental Education

Can Whole Saliva Serve as a Diagnostic Medium for Systemic Disease?

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Henry M. Goldman Distinguished Scientist Dr. Frank Oppenheim (Photo courtesy Boston University)In the last 10 years, there has been a surge of interest in using human whole saliva samples for diagnostics and disease monitoring as an alternative to blood samples. Henry M. Goldman Distinguished Scientist Dr. Frank Oppenheim knows why there is interest, as collection of saliva can be much less invasive to the patient than a collection of blood samples. Dr. Oppenheim discusses that and more in his paper “Whole-saliva Proteolysis and Its Impact on Salivary Diagnostics,” published in the November 2011 issue of the Journal of Dental Research. The research detailed can be considered a first step for those interested in testing the viability of whole saliva as a diagnostic medium.

"Congratulations to Dr. Oppenheim for having his research selected for publication by the Journal of Dental Research,” said Dean Jeffrey W. Hutter. “This is yet another example of his innovative research, and I know the findings of this paper will be used as a resource by countless others.”

Dr. Oppenheim explains that the difference between whole saliva and blood is that blood reflects infection all over the body because it flows. Saliva does not flow; it is secreted in the mouth, where it mixes with gingival fluids and bacteria. So, if the biomarkers related to infection in, for example, the heart or the finger did show up in whole saliva, they may be broken down by proteolytic activity in the mouth, to a level where they would be unrecognizable.

“The paper is a fundamental investigation of the characteristics of whole saliva, which will need to be taken into account if valid studies using saliva as a diagnostic medium are carried out,” says Dr. Oppenheim. “If everything gets destroyed by virtue of how the samples are handled, we are very likely to come to wrong conclusions.”

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