Chew on this: for the last seven years, the U.S. Army has been developing a gum that helps eliminate plaque, reduce cavities and clean teeth.
Combat Gum fights plaque and periodontal disease, and it soon will be distributed to high-risk troops, says Col. Robert Hale, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon and commander of the Army Institute of Surgical Research in San Antonio who was quoted in a recent USA Today article about the gum. Combat Gum contains an anti-microbial peptide. What’s that, you’re wondering? Essentially, it’s a compound that contains potent antibiotics that kill aggressive types of bacteria.
On average, about 40 percent of recruits enter service with at least three or more cavities. And Americans spend an alarming $100 billion on dental services a year, the USA Today article states. Combat Gum was developed to help maintain the oral health of troops, because all dental work must be completed before the soldiers deploy.
Soldiers who need dental attention while in the field must be removed from combat and transported to the nearest dentist. Combat Gum would reduce the number of dental emergencies in the battlefield, as well as reduce what taxpayers pay for dental care for soldiers and their families. The instructions are straightforward: simply chew for 20 minutes after each meal (technically, three times a day). This would keep soldiers in the field and wouldn’t take away from valuable training time.
Initially, the aim is to make the gum available to all troops in the Army, then eventually make it available to the public. Right now the estimated cost of Combat Gum is roughly $2 per piece. Although that may sound pricey, it is significantly lower than a $600 crown or a $250 filling. Naturally, this could be beneficial at reducing the number of patients seeking these types of procedures.
The hope is when the gum becomes available to the public, parents can buy it for their kids and encourage good oral hygiene. If successful, dental offices would first prescribe it and eventually, you could buy it in stores without a prescription. Thinking long-term here, this could dramatically increase oral health among people of all ages. Not everyone remembers to brush regularly, so Combat Gum could help in those situations, especially if you live an active lifestyle…or you’re a soccer mom who’s always on the go with your children.
From an orthodontic standpoint, this could be invaluable. I might be one of the few Miami orthodontists who doesn’t have a problem with patients chewing sugar-free gum while wearing braces, because it may help influence the teeth to move more efficiently, and won’t harm the brackets. Notice I said sugar-free gum. Sugary gums are more likely to stick to orthodontic appliances and potentially damage them.
Sugarless gum can soothe and take away some of the discomfort you feel when getting braces for the first time or having your arch wires adjusted. And brushing tends to be trickier when you have braces, so Combat Gum could help reduce what brushing might miss, especially from those hard-to-reach areas.
If and when Combat Gum becomes available, it will not be a substitute for regular brushing and flossing. While this gum could prove useful, you should not think of this as a replacement to brushing or actively taking care of your teeth.
The gum is in clinical trials right now, but if it helps combat troops, eventually the rest of us could buy Combat Gum as easily as ordinary chewing gum…but without the guilt.