A Saliva Test May Diagnose Osteoporosis Earlier
April 2, 2001 -- A simple saliva test may one day be able to detect the brittle bone diseaseosteoporosis earlier -- potentially staving off fractures, a Mississippi researcher reports.
Currently, doctors can test for osteoporosis by using a type of X-ray test to measure bone density in various sites of the body. Doctors also can look for certain warning signs in the blood or urine, but the same signs can be found in saliva, according to Roger Johnson, DDS, PhD, a professor of periodontics at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Miss. Johnson presented his findings at the Experimental Biology conference under way in Orlando, Fla., this week.
Doctors and/or dentists perform the saliva test by giving a patient a piece of flavorless gum. "You chew on it," Johnson explains, "and then you spit saliva in a cup, then the spit sample is sent off to the lab for analysis." The gum stimulates the mouth to produce saliva faster, but it doesn't add anything to the saliva.
"Results are available within three hours, but hopefully we will be able to get them sooner in the future," he says.
Noting that the research is in its infancy, Johnson says he is "optimistic" that the test may become available within five years. And "one day, the test may be able to be performed at home like a home pregnancy test," he says.
"The most important feature would be that the salivary test could be used to screen a large number of patients [and] it might be possible to detect osteoporosis earlier due to this increased screening," he tells WebMD. "It would probably identify people at risk, so we can start treatment earlier and change bad lifestyle habits that result in bone loss."
Osteoporosis prevention starts with a balanced diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, regular weight-bearing exercise, and a healthy lifestyle with no smoking and limited alcohol intake.
Osteoporosis affects 28 million Americans, 80% of whom are women, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation. One in two women and one in eight men over age 50 will have an osteoporosis-related fracture in their lifetime. Osteoporosis is responsible for more than 1.5 million fractures annually, including 300,000 hip fractures.