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What Is an Oral Swab?

By Christina Edwards
Updated May 17, 2024
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An oral swab is a type of swab used to collect tissue or fluids from the oral cavity, or mouth. The swab ends of these devices are usually rubbed on the inside of the mouth to obtain a sample. These types of swabs are generally used for DNA testing, medical diagnosis, and drug testing.

An oral swab, sometimes referred to as a buccal swab, is similar to a regular cotton swab that is used for personal hygiene. This type of swab, however, has just one cotton tip, instead of two on each end. It is also a little longer. This added length helps sample retrievers reach deep into the oral cavity.

When using an oral swab, it is important not to touch the cotton tip before inserting it into the mouth. This can contaminate the sample, causing inaccurate test results. Also, if the swab comes in contact with anything after the sample is retrieved, it should be discarded.

An oral swab is typically a minimally invasive procedure. It is not usually considered painful, and there are no side effects. The cotton tip is typically rubbed on the inside of the oral cavity for several seconds. This can include areas such as the inside of the cheek, under the tongue, or the back of the throat.

After the sample is retrieved, the oral swab is sometimes allowed to dry for a few seconds. It is then placed into a sterile container, such as a protective plastic sleeve or tube. Protecting the swab helps avoid contamination of the sample.

An oral swab may be used for a few reasons. The epithelial cells on the cheek can be collected for DNA testing, for example. This is often used to determine the biological parents of a child, which is often called paternity testing. It can also be used to link a suspect to a crime scene that contains DNA evidence.

Oral swabs may also be used to diagnose certain illnesses. A sample from the throat can be taken to help diagnose strep throat, for instance. This can be more accurate than other types of diagnostic tests. Oral thrush can also be diagnosed with a mouth swab.

Drug testing can also be done with a mouth swab. This may be mandatory for jobs with some employers. Oral swab tests to detect drugs may also be available in some pharmacies. These are often used by parents who wish to find out if their children are using drugs.

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