Salivary Diagnostics

Why Is Saliva Important?

Saliva is an integral part of a healthy body and plays a vital role well beyond the mouth. You may be surprised to learn that saliva does several critical things for your body, and in some instances, it can even help identify illnesses, including some forms of cancer.

Research shows that it protects against gum disease, tooth decay and other oral infections. A thin film of fluid covers teeth and acts as a buffer against bacteria, while antimicrobial agents in saliva kill disease-causing bacteria.

As saliva moves around the mouth, it sweeps away small bits of food that feed the bacteria responsible for tooth decay and periodontal disease.

Saliva neutralizes acids in the mouth that break down tooth enamel by washing away acidic residue from eating. When acid damages enamel, saliva repairs the tooth’s protective surface in a process called remineralization. Calcium, phosphorous, fluoride and other minerals contained in saliva repair the enamel surfaces of teeth, keeping them healthy, strong and resistant to cavities.

Saliva also plays a vital role in digestion, thanks to an enzyme called amylase. Digestion begins in the mouth when amylase breaks down starch, maltose and dextrose into smaller molecules. It also helps you swallow food by making it wet and soft so that it can slide down your throat more easily.

But, saliva also has another vital role. It is an excellent indicator of the biomarkers that tell us what is happening within your body beyond oral health and periodontal disease. It can aid in the detection of severe and chronic illnesses.

Bacteria in the in the gums and in the saliva can sometimes be detrimental to the to the gums, causing inflammation and breakdown of the bone.

What Is Saliva?

Saliva is the fluid found in the mouths of humans and other vertebrates. It consists of water, proteins, enzymes, mucus and mineral salts.

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Disease Prevention


Using saliva as a tool to determine the health of the body is a practice used for centuries. In ancient China, the inability to swallow a handful of rice whole was held up as a sign of guilt because if an individual was nervous (as a result of lying, for example), their salivary secretions dried up, making it difficult to swallow.

While that seems a little far-fetched, in the early 20th century, researchers used cytochemical tests to study the saliva for signs of health issues such as gout and rheumatism. In early 2002, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial investigated saliva’s molecular diagnostics. They found its genomic information is located in areas beyond the mouth, making it a useful marker for testing various systemic conditions.

Human saliva also contains human DNA and RNA, as well as bacterial and viral DNA. Both types of DNA can be extracted and analyzed through a laboratory process called Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), a technique for cloning DNA in a test tube.

Cloning is necessary to ensure that a large enough DNA sample is obtained to perform a detailed lab analysis. More than 1 billion DNA strands are produced from the original single strand after approximately 90 minutes of laboratory preparation. The genetic information derived from the PCR process play an integral part not only in the early diagnosis of diseases, but also in confirming the presence of a genetic polymorphism, which can indicate whether a person has a predisposition or increased susceptibility to a specific disease or condition.

Conditions that can be diagnosed through the analysis of saliva’s biosensors and biomarkers include periodontal disease, cardiovascular conditions such as atherosclerosis and hypertension, diabetes, kidney disease, inflammatory conditions, certain cancers, and a mother’s health and risk potential to have low-birthweight babies.

Why Are Salivary Diagnostics Important?

Salivary diagnostics is an emerging field that has advanced several times in the last decade. Researchers have found that the process of diagnosing systemic and oral disease through testing saliva can help provide opportunities for early intervention of certain conditions, including periodontal disease.

Salivary diagnostics is essential because it plays a vital role in detecting and preventing a wide range of oral and system diseases without being invasive, making it much easier for patients.

The collection process for saliva is more comfortable and inexpensive than other treatments, and collection can be easily repeated.

Saliva is so essential to health that it is often referred to as the “mirror of the body,” and salivary diagnostics are the perfect medium to be explored for health and disease surveillance. The opportunities for diagnosis of severe diseases are enormous.

Disease Prevention

Testing Saliva

Dr. Raul Garcia and Dr. Conchi Sanchez-Garcia have partnered with OralDNA Labs Inc., a subsidiary of Quest Diagnostics ( OralDNA Labs Inc. is the global leader in salivary-based diagnostic testing.

The Los Angeles-based company performs laboratory testing for more than half a million patients each day, serving approximately half of the physicians, dentists and hospitals in the United States.

If you are a doctor and have a patient you suspect may have a problem with periodontal disease, cardiovascular conditions, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, kidney disease, diabetes, human papillomavirus or cancer, salivary diagnostics may help.

If you would like to see how salivary diagnostics can aid in the detection of these diseases or want to have your patients tested for inflammatory biomarkers such as Interleukin-1 (IL-1), elevated levels of Immunoglobulin (IgA) or Substance P (the marker for inflammatory diseases) and increased number of cytokines, call our office at 305-595-4616 or email us at

If you are interested in learning more about bioengineering research and disease detection involving salivary diagnostics, read more about the Human Salivary Proteome Project at UCLA in this article: 

The Major and Minor Salivary Glands

The salivary glands are exocrine glands that produce saliva. They also secrete amylase, which aids in the breakdown of starchy foods into maltose.

The major salivary glands include the parotid gland, the submandibular gland and the sublingual gland.

More than 600 minor salivary glands are located throughout the mouth within the submucosal layer of the oral mucosa. They are 1 to 2 mm in diameter, and unlike other glands, they are not encapsulated by connective tissue, only surrounded by it.

A minor salivary gland is usually made up of many acini, the tiny clusters of cells that include water, electrolytes, mucus and enzymes.

A minor salivary gland may have a common excretory duct with another gland or its excretory duct. These glands secrete mucous and have many functions, such as coating the oral mucosa with saliva to keep it moist.

Researchers estimate that humans produce between 0.75 and 1.5 liters of saliva per day. In humans, the submandibular gland contributes around 70 percent of secretion, while the parotid gland secretes about 25 percent, and the remaining 5 percent is secreted from the other salivary glands.

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