Most parents teach their children it’s impolite to spit, but Kristin Wilby, a first-year medical student at Halifax’s Dalhousie University, is encouraging children to slobber and spit all over her research.

Whitby is conducting a study to link chronic pain and children’s saliva.

Whitby, with help from Dr. Christine Chambers, Canada Research Chair in Pain and Child Health at the IWK Health Centre, hopes to find a better way to gauge pain in children, she said.


“Right now we’re using what we call the ‘pain face;’ when a child describes the amount of pain or stress they are in by looking at a picture of someone in pain,” Whitby said.

The study looks at levels of the hormone cortisol, or the stress hormone, in saliva before and after putting the child’s hand into a tub of 10 degree Celsius water, she said.

Children will chew on cotton swabs and the hormone will painlessly be extracted, a new release explained.

Whitby said it’s hard for children to put pain into words, especially young children who may not have experienced much pain in their lifetime.

Her research team is looking for healthy children between the ages of 8 and 12 to take part in the study.

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