Research suggests that the NHS could save over £8 million on a dental treatments annually if 12 year-olds agree to chew sugar-free gum on a daily basis.
It is well-known that chewing gum can play a major role in reducing tooth decay by neutralising plaque acids and breaking down lingering food, but scientists believe that the extent of this could really save the NHS a significant amount of money.
A recent study published in the British Dental Journal suggests that the saving could be equal to 264,000 dental checkups.
And the authors of the research suggest that the whole population should get into the habit of chewing gum at every single meal.
According to government figures, one in three 12-year-olds say they have been too embarrassed to laugh or smile because their teeth are in poor condition.
Perhaps this is as indicative of an image-obsessed society as a problem with dental health, but it is nonetheless believed that chewing gum could play a major role in addressing the problem.
Commenting on the issue, Professor Liz Kay, from Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, was of the opinion that this is a significant piece of research.
“The findings of this study are hugely exciting as they reveal a new and easy way of helping people improve their oral health. Crucially, whilst these figures are significant, they refer only to cost reductions for treating 12-year-olds in the UK; if this model was to be applied to the whole population then there is a real potential to create substantial NHS savings.”
However, dental experts also warn that brushing teeth must be considered the central process in reducing tooth decay.
Brushing for nearly two minutes every day is the most effective solution, and chewing gum particularly should not be considered effective for younger children.
In fact, sugar-free gum only has a dental benefit for those aged eight and over.
Although the benefits have been acknowledged by the British Dental Health Foundation, official guidance has not mentioned the procedure.
The University that conducted the research wants to see this change in the short term, noting that there has rarely been explicit mentioning of sugar-free gum in dental legislation and documentation.
“With the NHS facing a huge funding gap, new solutions – such as sugar-free chewing gum – need to be considered to help tackle the totally preventable problem of tooth decay,” a Plymouth University spokesman added.
61% of adults in England, 60% in Northern Ireland and 69% in both Wales and Scotland now attend their dentists regularly. In 1978, the figure was just 44% in England and 39% in Wales.