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Soldiers to get teeth-cleaning chewing gum

November 11, 2005 By Michael Hopkin This article courtesy of Nature News.

Protein-powered gum may replace toothbrush for those on the move.

US soldiers are set to add a new killing machine to their arsenal: one that wipes out bacteria. Chewing gum could help troops to avoid the frequent dental problems that arise when in the field for days on end without cleaning their teeth.

Oral hygiene may not sound like a serious problem for soldiers on manoeuvres. But US military experts point out that tooth and gum problems can be debilitating. Around 15% of deployed soldiers have experienced 'dental emergencies' such as gum infections, says Kai Leung of the US Army Dental Research Detachment in Great Lakes, Illinois.

The gum, developed by US Army researchers, contains a protein that attacks the bugs that cause plaque, which in turn can lead to gum infections and tooth decay. Soldiers can keep their mouths clean without toothpaste, brush and bathroom sink, its creators say.

Trials of the gum's active ingredient, a protein fragment called KSL, show that it kills harmful mouth bacteria, such as Streptococcus mutans, growing on discs of tooth-like material in the lab. The next step will be to test the gum in the field.

Chew and go

The gum could be useful to anyone away from their bathroom for days at a time, adds Patrick DeLuca of the University of Kentucky in Lexington, who presented the team's results at the recent annual meeting of the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists in Nashville, Tennessee.

"This chewing-gum formulation could have numerous potential uses; not only for the military, but also for the avid outdoorsman and anyone else on the go," he says. That might include anyone from aid workers to music-festival-goers.

Other antimicrobial chewing gums and some mouthwashes that are currently available contain the compound chlorhexidine, which has a range of possible side effects including tooth staining, mouth irritation and impaired taste perception. Many sugar-free gums that are marketed as being good for your teeth simply increase saliva flow, which helps to remove food particles, says Leung.

The KSL protein kills oral bacteria by targeting and attacking their cell membranes, he says. Unlike the antibacterial compounds found in mouthwash, which users are advised not to swallow, proteins are broken down by digestive enzymes once they reach the stomach. So the chewing gum shouldn't interfere with the normal bacterial make-up of the gut, Leung says.

But soldiers had better not hold their breath, he adds. The gum will have to undergo rigorous trials in human subjects before it can be approved as a standard part of the military ration pack.


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