Scientists have discovered important linkages between periodontal disease and heart disease, stroke, diabetes and pancreatic cancer. In the field of dental research, there are many opportunities, such as salivary diagnostics, that are on the cusp of producing critical breakthroughs in the detection of and fight against disease, as well as generating positive economic activity.

A great promise

"Salivary diagnostics are less invasive, relatively inexpensive and have the potential of showing more immediate results, which is particularly beneficial when results are urgently needed."

Salivary diagnostics are measures that collect and analyze saliva (spit) to test for conditions such as HIV, HPV, substance abuse, caries, periodontitis and oral cancer. Through the work and support of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR) over the last decade, these diagnostics are showing great promise in screening for diabetes, heart disease, lung cancer, ovarian cancer and pancreatic cancer.

Promising results

Salivary diagnostics only require collecting saliva, unlike traditional methods that rely on withdrawing blood or on doing tissue biopsy. As a result, salivary diagnostics are less invasive. In addition, they are relatively inexpensive and have the potential of showing more immediate results, which is particularly beneficial when results are urgently needed.

There are numerous other examples of National Institutes of Health (NIH) supported research in our field that could be brought to the fore of patient care with increased federal investment. These include eliminating oral health disparities, preventing dental caries and early detection of oral cancer. Investments made in NIH today clearly result in decreased individual and government costs tomorrow.

However, future advances in health care depend on a sustained investment in basic research to identify the fundamental causes and mechanisms of disease, accelerate technological development and discovery, and ensure a robust and diverse pipeline of creative and skillful biomedical researchers.