Some Facts About Saliva That May Make You Salivate
Did you know that the average adult produces between 500 and 1,500 milliliters of saliva daily? For perspective that it is between 2 to 6 cups of liquid. The production of salvia aids digestion and preserves oral health. But it may also hold answers to cancer detection. And while biopsies are invasive, painful, and require surgical acumen, collecting saliva specimens are quite the opposite – it’s readily available and requires no surgical procedure.
And it’s a complex secretion. 93% by volume comes from the major salivary glands and the rest is from minor glands. While 99% of saliva is made up of water, organic and inorganic molecules make up the other 1%. Keep reading to learn the connection between saliva, cancer detection, and oral health.
What Answers Can Saliva Hold?
In short, quite a lot. The initial idea and question around if saliva could hold the answer to identifying cancer began in the 1950s. It started with the question, “Would the saliva of those with prostate cancer look different than those without?” And it did. During the study, findings showed that the saliva of those patients with untreated prostate cancer had an elevated level of acid phosphatases with a type of enzyme.
Dr. Kirk C. Hoerman is the man who came up with the theory and study mentioned above. And although that was in 1950, using saliva for diagnostic testing is relatively new, as in the last decade. But why? In the past 10 years or so, it became a scientific fact that salivary glands that are in close proximity to blood vessels actually transfer molecular information.
This field of “omics sciences” is helping to rapidly accelerate the field of saliva diagnostics. According to an article from Harvard Catalyst:
Omics is a rapidly evolving, multi-disciplinary, and emerging field that encompasses genomics, epigenomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, and metabolomics. Each of these fields offers the possibility to understand and view biology from a global perspective in a way that was previously unthinkable.
Plus, it is now known that between 20-30% of the saliva proteome overlaps with that of blood.
Why Should I Care About Saliva and Why Does Matter for Oral Health?
So why and how do saliva and prostate cancer diagnoses connect to your oral health? Here are three critical points to know.
- There’s an At-Home FDA-Approved Prediagnostic Tool Using Saliva. In 2021, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a tool from a company called Viome that uses saliva for its oral and throat cancer diagnostic tool. The tool combines artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to analyze the samples of saliva specifically messenger RNA (mRNA) as this is modified when a tumor develops on the lips, tongue, through, or other nearby areas. It’s an at-home health intelligence test.
- Saliva is the New “Biopsy” and It’s Non-invasive. Biopsies are invasive, often painful, and require a trained doctor to perform. Collecting readily available saliva is completely non-invasive and as noted above, can help diagnose and identify oral and other systematic diseases. Plus, patients can collect it themselves and even do it at home making it a more convenient process and saving time from going to doctors’ offices and empowering patients to take a very active role in their own health.
- Saliva Has Predictive Power. Saliva may hold some of the answers to understanding the risk of someone developing cancer, how a tumor may evolve, and even monitoring therapeutic responses which will help foster even more personalized medicine.
In addition to cancer, a recent study has shown that saliva with high levels of cytokines which are small proteins that signal the immune system have increased inflammation in their gums – known as periodontal disease or gum disease. About 50% of adults suffer from this which puts that at increased risk for a multitude of conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.
Those increased cytokine levels can inflame more than gums though. It’s thought that they can cause boost systematic inflammation as well as travel directly to organs like the heart and brain. More research is needed, but the thought is that these findings will help to better understand periodontal disease progression, reoccurrence, and connections to other systematic diseases. All that just from some spit.
Your Saliva is Priceless
Thank you for reading our blog on the connection between saliva, cancer detection, and oral health. Next time you swish and spit, you may have a whole new appreciation for just how much oral and overall health information your saliva contains. And remember, regular cleanings and dental exams can help catch early signs of oral cancers. Preventative dental care is key.
Make Your Next Dental Appointment Today.
- Llena-Puy C. The rôle of saliva in maintaining oral health and as an aid to diagnosis. Med Oral Patol Oral Cir Bucal. 2006 Aug;11(5):E449-55. English, Spanish. PMID: 16878065.
- Tang, V., Hamidi, B., Janal, M. N., Barber, C. A., Godder, B., Palomo, L., & Kamer, A. R. (2023). Periodontal Inflamed Surface Area (PISA) associates with composites of salivary cytokines. PLOS ONE, 18(2), e0280333. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0280333