The National Health Service (NHS) has said it could save £8.2m on dental treatments every year if all 12-year-olds chewed sugar-free gum three times a day, according to experts in the UK.
A study in the British Dental Journal suggests the cash saving – equivalent to 364,000 dental check-ups – could be boosted if the whole population got into the habit of chewing gum after every meal, which can help prevent tooth decay by neutralising plaque acids and breaking down lingering food.
One in three 12-year-olds say they have been too embarrassed to laugh or smile because their teeth are in poor condition, according to Government figures. So if every child of this age chewed just one piece of sugar-free gum a day, researchers say the NHS would save £2.8m annually.
Professor Liz Kay, from Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, said: “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.”
Brushing teeth for two minutes twice a day remains the most effective solution for healthy teeth – and 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 rarely explicitly mentioned sugar-free gum” – something that the university wants to see changed.
“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.