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Mouth Drug Test: Definition, How It Works, & How to Conduct

05 March, 2024

A female patient being swabbed in the mouth

A mouth drug test is one method that detects the presence of drugs in a person. This type of test is commonly utilised in workplace and roadside screenings to determine if a person has recently consumed illegal substances. It works by analysing the saliva using immunoassay or reagents. If drugs are present in the sample, the test will cause a visible chemical reaction change. This method uses a small collection device to swab inside the mouth.

Monitoring drug use is vital in various settings, such as workplaces, schools, and other public areas. It helps identify individuals who are impaired and have a risk of causing an accident. The mouth swab drug test is a convenient and non-invasive way to quickly determine if a person is under the influence of drugs within a specific timeframe. This article will provide information on saliva drug testing, how it works, and how to conduct it.

What is a Mouth Drug Test?

A mouth drug test, also known as an oral fluid test, is a type of screening method that detects a wide range of drugs. This test is quick, painless, and non-invasive. It is also relatively less expensive, making it cost-efficient for institutions that require frequent screenings. Additionally, this method is less prone to adulteration than urine or blood tests.

Police officers typically use a saliva drug test in roadside screening to determine drug driving. The sample collection procedure is convenient, as it does not require a private bathroom or facility. Thus, authorities can quickly get the results and take action if necessary. In such a manner, it minimises safety hazards on the road due to drug impairment.

In the workplace, many companies include oral fluid drug testing to implement a drug-free work policy. This is especially important for jobs involving operating heavy machinery or working in safety-sensitive positions. Employers may conduct random mouth swab drug tests or test employees after an accident to ensure a safe working environment.

Benefits of Mouth Testing

  • Non-invasive: Oral fluid testing is quick and painless. It does not require needles or injections that can be uncomfortable for some people.
  • Easy collection: It requires a small sample collection under direct supervision. 
  • Quick results: The results are available within minutes, allowing individuals or organisations to take immediate action if necessary.
  • Less prone to adulteration: Saliva drug testing is less likely to be tampered with in comparison to urine or blood tests, making it a more reliable method of screening.
  • Deterrence: It can help deter drug abuse and reduce the likelihood of accidents or injuries.

Showing the test results of the ToxWipe drug test kit

How Does a Mouth Drug Test Work?

The principle behind a mouth drug test is simple. It is a type of drug screening that involves collecting a saliva sample using a swab. When a person consumes drugs, the body breaks down the substances into smaller molecules known as metabolites. These metabolites then circulate throughout the body, including oral fluids.

The test works using immunoassay techniques that detect drug metabolites in the saliva. This technique utilises antibodies that bind to certain drugs or their metabolites specifically. If an illicit drug is present in the sample, it causes a chemical reaction that produces a visible change. This will show in the saliva drug test kit through a colour change or line indicator.

This type of screening produces a qualitative result. If drugs are present, it is essential to conduct further laboratory analysis to determine the concentration of drugs in the system. Moreover, oral drug tests can detect common illicit drugs like marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, and opiates. It can also trace certain prescription medications that people may abuse.

Detection Window

The drug detection window for a saliva test can vary depending on the type of substance. For most drugs, the period is up to 24 to 48 hours after consumption. However, some drugs like marijuana are detectable for up to 72 hours or longer, especially in chronic users. It is generally shorter compared to urine tests.

Furthermore, various factors can influence the detection period, such as metabolism, hydration level, and frequency of use. Also, substances can show up in the oral cavity within a few hours after use. Due to the fast metabolism of drugs in saliva, this method is suitable for detecting recent consumption.

A male worker self-administering a saliva drug test

How to Conduct a Mouth Drug Test?

Conducting a mouth drug test involves a few steps and minimal preparations. Before testing, the person should refrain from eating or drinking anything for 10 to 15 minutes. The next step is to prepare the mouth swab. Professionals or individuals must ensure that the collection kit is sealed and tamper-free.

Once ready, the testing officer places the swab inside the mouth and brushes it against the cheek, gums, and tongue. Afterwards, place the swab into a testing device or container for analysis. The results are usually available within 5 to 10 minutes. The test administrator compares the results against a chart to determine if drugs are present or absent in the sample.

If the test is positive, further confirmation testing may be necessary to ensure the accuracy of the results. In the lab, the sample can undergo Gas Chromatography-Mass spectrometry (GC-MS) or Liquid Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry (LC-MS) for a more detailed analysis. Conducting a confirmation test before making decisions is vital to ascertain accuracy.

Factors Affecting the Accuracy of the Testing

Several factors can influence the accuracy of a mouth swab drug test. One crucial factor is the collection technique. If the sample of saliva does not properly saturate the swab, it can lead to inaccurate results. Another factor is the presence of contaminants in the oral cavity. Food particles or mouthwash can interfere with the test and lead to false positives.

Dry mouth or dehydration can affect the concentration of drugs in saliva. Additionally, the pH level of saliva can impact the accuracy of the test, as certain substances may not be easily detectable in acidic or alkaline conditions.

Conclusion

Mouth drug tests are a quick and non-invasive way to detect the presence of drugs in the system. It uses immunoassay techniques that can provide immediate results. This type of test can detect various drug types, including marijuana, cocaine, amphetamines, and opioids. To conduct the test, it involves swabbing the inside of the mouth to obtain adequate oral fluid samples and analysing it using reagents. The results are available within minutes.

A positive result can indicate recent drug use. However, it is essential to note that the detection times may vary. Several factors can influence the detection window, such as the amount of consumption and frequency of use. It is also vital to follow the proper procedure for specimen collection, storage, and handling to ensure the integrity and reliability of the test. Overall, an oral fluid drug test is a valuable tool for detecting illegal drugs and ensuring safety.

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