Pediatric tooth decay is a growing crisis in the United Kingdom (UK), affecting 34% of 12-year-olds surveyed in a 2013 study. Yet if all of the 12-year-olds in the UK chewed sugar-free gum after eating or drinking 3 times a day, the National Health Service (NHS) could save £8.2 million a year on dental treatment, according to the Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry.
“Crucially, whilst these figures are significant, they refer only to cost reductions for treating 12-year-olds in the UK,” said professor Liz Kay, co-author of the study. “If this model was to be applied to the whole population, then there is a real potential to create substantial NHS savings. Clinical evidence has already proved that sugar-free gum can help prevent caries, and now we can also see a clear financial advantage.”
Chewing sugar-free gum after eating and drinking increases saliva production, which helps to wash away food particles and neutralize harmful plaque acids. It also promotes the remineralization of tooth enamel. While the British Dental Health Foundation says that brushing for 2 minutes twice a day is the best way to maintain oral hygiene, chewing sugar-free gum can be extremely effective as well.
Studies have shown that poor oral health in childhood or adolescence can lead to poor oral health in adulthood, creating vast costs to the NHS throughout the patient’s lifetime through replaced fillings and implanted crowns, bridges, and prosthetics. Also, poor oral health can affect self-esteem, with 35% of 12-year-olds saying they were embarrassed to smile or laugh due to their teeth.
More than one million patients in the UK use NHS dental services each week, many for dental disease, costing the NHS £3.4 billion each year. With the NHS facing a huge funding gap, the researchers suggested, new solutions such as sugar-free gum should be encouraged to reduce tooth decay. The study was published in the British Dental Journal.