This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Saliva test aims to determine risk of periodontal bone loss

Published: September 2, 2004

Contributing Editor

Going to the dentist could be considerably more pleasant for patients, less time-consuming for dentists and less costly to the health-care system in the future if a new study being undertaken by UB oral biologists goes as predicted.

With the aid of a $431,000, two-year grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, UB researchers hope to identify components in saliva that will tell a dentist, using a quick chair-side test, whether a patient is at risk for future loss of bone that holds the teeth in place. A positive test would signal the need for extensive cleaning and treatment.

Periodontal bone loss is a serious oral-health condition that can cause teeth to loosen and fall out. Such a test would reduce the need to submit every patient to expensive, time-consuming and often-uncomfortable X-rays and pocket-probing exams, which measure how much of the tooth-supporting bone already has been lost due to periodontal (gum) disease. Such a test also may help a dentist decide how often a patient needs tooth-cleaning.

"Currently, there is no way for dentists to determine present bone-loss activity," said lead researcher Frank Scannapieco, professor of oral biology in the School of Dental Medicine. "All that can be assumed by measuring gum pocket depth is that damage already has been done.

"We are looking for biomarkers that would tell the dentist if there is active bone loss occurring," Scannapieco said. "This information would allow the practitioner to target appropriate interventions to the patients who need it most, without spending time and resources where there is no risk. It also would provide a quick and easy way to monitor patients over the long-term and to determine if a prescribed treatment is working. In addition, it may indicate if a patient needs a recall for tooth-cleaning, or more recall visits."

The researchers know what they are looking for. Specific protein biomarkers of bone destruction have been found to be elevated in fluid collected from gum crevices in patients with active periodontal disease. However, it can take hours to collect enough of this fluid for analysis, whereas saliva is plentiful and easily collected.

To determine if these same biomarkers are present in saliva in sufficient quantities to measure, the researchers will use partially magnetized microspheres coated with multiple antibodies to which the marker proteins will bind if they are present. The microspheres then can be captured using a magnet, and the biomarkers concentrated and identified. This technology may allow development of a simple one-step, in-office test using one saliva sample.

The study will be carried out using saliva samples banked at UB's Women's Health Initiative Vanguard Center, where baseline oral-health data and periodontal status in participating women is being followed for five years.

Additional investigators on the project are Jean Wactowski-Wende, associate professor of social and preventive medicine in the School of Public Health and Health Professions; Ernest Hausmann, professor emeritus of oral biology; Ed Rossomando, professor of dental medicine at the University of Connecticut, and Paul Wallace, research associate professor in the Department of Biotechnical and Clinical Laboratory Sciences in the UB School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and chair of the Flow Cytometry Department at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.