Could dental offices become cancer screening grounds?

Advances in cancer detection are undergoing trials in China, and the impact for cancer screening during dental visits could be significant. It turns out that saliva may hold the key to early cancer detection.

Dr. David Wong at the School of Dentistry at UCLA has announced technology over a decade in the making is finally coming closer to implementation in everyday medical practice. Dr. Wong and his associates have been developing a method called “liquid biopsy,” which detects circulating tumor DNA in bodily fluids such as saliva and blood. The impact for cancer screening research is momentous and may lead to further uses of cancer screening techniques in dental offices.

At the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Dr. Wong hosted a news briefing that outlined the prototype for liquid biopsy, which offers rapid, less invasive identification of cancers and easier tracking of disease progress during treatment. This creates an incredible opportunity for patients to be screened at earlier stages of cancer when treatments are more effective.

Dr. Wong’s device uses electric field-induced release and measurement to detect non-small cell lung cancer biomarkers in saliva. The device analyzes the contents of exosomes – tiny bags of molecules that cells release periodically. The device forces the exosomes to release their contents and carries out bio-recognition of the released biomolecules at the same time. Dr. Wong discovered many years ago that his device can detext tumor-shed exosomes that are usually found in blood also in saliva. This means that with a small sample of saliva, he is able to check for the byproducts of tumors.

Dr. Wong’s prototype is currently on trial in China. Perhaps most exciting is the fact that this liquid biopsy procedure takes only 10 minutes to read results and can be administered in any doctor’s office. In the future, this may include dental offices like Smiles by Shields! Up next in their research plan is the development of a saliva test for detecting mutations linked to oropharyngeal cancers – cancers of the mouth and the back of the throat.

Speeding up the diagnosis of cancer and making it easier to identify has a host of potential benefits. First, it alleviates the stress and strain on a patient waiting for biopsy results. The stress of wondering “is it cancer?” has no positive health impact and only aggravates the psychological stress of the potential condition.

In addition, the wait time during diagnosis can often lead to a delay in treatment. Some cancers are so aggressive that any reduction in treatment delay could mean the difference between life and death. Also, early treatment could reduce the strength, intensity, and impact of cancer treatments so that gentler, less-invasive treatment options remain viable alternatives for patients.

Perhaps most importantly to dentists, these saliva tests can easily be adopted as part of the biannual screening for oral cancers already taking place in dental offices like Smiles by Shields during every exam. If the liquid biopsy can be perfected, biomarkers can replace sight to determine the presence of potential cancers. And once the liquid biopsy has developed into the detection of additional cancers, it is possible that one screening could detect most forms of cancer during that annual oral exam at the dentist’s office.

This standard of care would be excellent for patients, as it would provide a regular screening for such important information such as the presence of cancers. It would also encourage greater participation between dentists and other healthcare providers, as integrated health teams become the norm for treating patients with complex conditions.

The earlier patients can receive a cancer diagnosis and begin treatment, the better! And we often think of dental and oral health care as separate from medical care, but as these treatments and diagnostic measures progress in sophistication, they become reflective of the truly integrated nature of medicine and the necessity of total body health care.

If you have questions about how dental care is connected to your overall wellness and how dental visits preserve your overall health, contact the team at Smiles by Shields today. We’d love to talk with you about the many ways oral care contributes to your overall wellness!


Paddock, C. (2016, February 15). “Saliva test for identifying, tracking cancer steps closer.” Medical News Today. Retrieved from


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