Could rapid COVID-19 tests become the norm at your dentist?

Posted at 4:26 PM, Mar 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-15 19:13:59-04

Could rapid COVID-19 tests become the norm at your dentist office?

A California dentist who works with a leading research center for oral biology is advocating for that scenario, calling it a low-cost and efficient method to screen for COVID-19 amid the ongoing pandemic.

Dr. Joel Strom, a former president of the California State Dental Board and an adjunct professor at the Forsyth Institute in Cambridge, Mass., pointed to the comfort, faster turnaround and more widespread access of salivary testing. Strom said widespread testing at dental offices, which receive about 200 million visits per year across the country, could help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"Collecting spit is far more appealing that having your nose swabbed or your finger pricked," Strom said. "Dentists should be performing in-office, Covid-19 saliva tests on patients to help combat the virus."

Forsyth Institute researchers have been working over the last year to improve COVID-19 testing methods that use saliva. Forsyth is helping develop rapid tests that are being used daily in schools and universities,

Wenyuan Shi, the CEO and Chief Scientific Officer at Forsyth, said saliva is useful as a testing method because it can be collected repeatedly — and easily. No specific methods or tools are needed to collect saliva samples, unlike collecting samples through nasal swabs.

There are some hurdles to saliva-based testing: Because saliva is considered "sticky" on a molecular level, finding a molecule within a sample can be challenging, according to Forsyth. Forsyth, a resource center for the National Insitutes of Health Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics, has worked during the pandemic to give recommendations on how saliva samples should be processed.

In a dental setting, the testing method would look like this: While you're in for an appointment to get your teeth cleaned, you'd spit into a vial and get a COVID-19 rapid result.

Forsyth is also developing other saliva-based testing methods, including a paper strip that would collect tiny amounts of saliva from salivary glands in the mouth. Collecting a sample via the paper strip would help people with Sjogren's syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes dry mouth and eyes.

Strom said there are some hurdles to making saliva testing widespread in dental offices, including government regulations. States would likely have to consider individually whether they would allow dentists to administer the rapid saliva tests — testing now is mostly limited to physicians, hospitals and urgent care facilities.

But the benefits of in-office testing, Strom said, makes it something that dentists "ought to get out in front of" moving forward.