Can Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder be Detected in Saliva?

Scientific advancements may make it possible to diagnose post-traumatic stress disorder quickly, objectively, and accurately using saliva.

By Theresa Ahearn

In a groundbreaking study from Tel Aviv and Haifa Universities, saliva samples may be used to diagnose people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In addition, microbiota pathway-related non-intrusive treatments may also be developed. The American Psychiatric Association describes PTSD as a mental health disorder caused by directly experiencing traumatic life events such as war; physical or sexual assault; domestic violence; car accidents; or natural disasters. Veterans and those in high-risk occupations, such as cops, firefighters, first responders, and emergency medical technicians, have the highest rates.

The study, published in Nature's Molecular Psychiatry journal, examined a special cohort of 200 Israeli soldiers who fought in the first Lebanon War in 1982. After collecting and investigating saliva samples, researchers identified a microbiological signature in the saliva of the former soldiers who had PTSD. Tests were administered to the veterans also to ascertain their psychological, physical, environmental, and medical markers such as mental health, level of education, sleep habits, diet, environment, and overall physical well-being.

Researchers discovered a correlation between the severity of PTSD and a microbiota signature, specifically lower levels of the bacteria sp HMT 914, 332, and 871 and Noxia. The saliva of those exposed to air pollution showed a correlation to PTSD as well. Contrarily, the length of education was associated with significantly lower levels of Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes and higher levels of sp HMT 871. Reductions in transaldolase were linked to arousal and reactivity symptoms.

Identifying PTSD using Molecular and Biological Characteristics

The significance of this study lies in the possibility that, for the first time, objective criteria other than behavioral ones may be used to diagnose PTSD. It may be possible, in the future, for medical professionals to use objective molecular and biological characteristics to distinguish people living with PTSD while also considering environmental influences. Using microbial signatures instead of more subjective screening may help promote a more straightforward diagnosis of post-traumatic veteran soldiers or other patients so they can receive appropriate and timely treatment.

Scholars from various fields collaborated on the research. Professor Illana Gozes led the team, which also included Professor Noam Shomron, Dr. Shlomo Sragovich, and Ph.D. student Guy Shapira from Tel Aviv University (TAU) 's Sackler Faculty of Medicine and Sagol School of Neuroscience, as well as Professor Zahava Solomon from TAU's Gershon Gordon Faculty of Social Sciences and Prof. Abraham Sagi-Schwartz and Ph.D. student Ella Levert-Levitt from Haifa. The participants in the study were drawn from a larger cohort of subjects from Professor Solomon's prior research studies on veterans.

Dental Treatment and PTSD

Though this study examined the relationship between PTSD and saliva in veterans, PTSD can affect anyone. According to the United States Department of Veteran Affairs, approximately 6% of the population will experience PTSD. Although the signs and symptoms of PTSD are frequently linked to mental health, certain dental conditions can be connected to PTSD. A similar study at Tel Aviv University compared dental, periodontal, oral, and joint tenderness among Israeli soldiers with combat-induced post-traumatic stress disorder to non-PTSD patients and found that all patients with PTSD had poor oral hygiene and most presented with dental problems like bruxism and temporomandibular disorder (TMJ).


As more information about PTSD and oral health becomes available, dentists must stay current on the latest research and effective treatment methods. A patient with post-traumatic stress disorder may present more significant challenges than the average dental patient. Therefore, dentists should be extra attentive when treating patients with PTSD. If a patient does have or displays symptoms of PTSD, maintaining a calm and relaxing environment, speaking slowly, and communicating will help the patient feel more comfortable during the appointment. Lastly, pre-health exams to get a thorough medical history are beneficial for all patients, especially those with PTSD, which can predispose them to certain oral health conditions.


Author: Theresa Ahearn is a freelance writer, currently residing in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. She received her Bachelor of Arts from the New York Institute of Technology and Master of Science from Central Connecticut State University. When not writing she can be found fishing or traveling someplace new.

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