Research by the University of York and Plymouth University – funded by the Wrigley Oral Healthcare Programme – said sugarfree gum could help young people minimize risk of dental caries, reducing the cost of dental care.
Preventing dental carries
If only two pieces were chewed by every 12-year old in the UK, the NHS could save £1.2m to £3.3m ($1.7 to $4.8m) a year, while three pieces per day could save £8.2m ($11.8m) annually, the authors claimed.
“If every member of the UK 12-year-old population increased their current sugarfree gum use by just one extra chewing occasion a day, potential cost savings of £1.1m ($1.7m) per year might be achieved,” said the study.
“Therefore, a policy designed to encourage the use of sugarfree could lead to significant decreases in expenditure on dental care and result in a reduction in capacity pressure on the UK dental healthcare system,” it continued.
The study authors reached these conclusions by creating an economic model to examine how much money could hypothetically be saved if the UK 12 year-old population chewed more sugarfree gum.
They used data from the Dental Public Health Epidemiology Programme that detailed the number of England’s 12 year-old population with tooth decay in 2009 and the type and frequency of treatment.
They then conducted a literature review - drawing mainly on a three-year study from Lithuania between 1994 and 1997 – to measure the possible reduction in dental caries from consuming sugarfree gum.
The study said chewing sugarfree gum stimulates saliva production, which helps to reduce incidences of dental caries.
Findings and uncertainties
The authors’ model – which can be examined in the open access journal article - predicted current expenditure on extractions and restorations due to tooth decay among 12-year olds in the UK amount to £33.4m ($48.3m) a year.
“There are no nationally published figures for the actual cost of each dental procedure. Therefore, there exists some uncertainty in the most appropriate value to use in the economic analysis,” said the study.
But the authors said their cost saving estimates were “consciously underestimated”.
“It is therefore likely that, by increasing use of sugarfree gum and thereby reducing the level of caries development, even greater cost savings in the long-term will be realised than those estimated in this analysis,” they said.
Current rate of consumption
According to the researchers, the majority of tooth decay occurs before the age of 15.
In a 2014 consumer survey of UK children aged 11-14, the majority (36%) reported being light gum users, chewing between one to four times a week – equivalent to around 130 chewing occasions a year.
The EU has approved health claims allowing manufacturers to claim sugarfree gum helps neutralize plaque acids, maintain tooth mineralization and reduce oral dryness.
Plaque acids and tooth demineralization are risk factors in the development of dental caries, according to the EU Register on nutrition and health claims.
British Dental Journal - 220, 121 - 127 (2016) Published online: 12 February 2016
‘Oral health promotion: the economic benefits to the NHS of increased use of sugarfree gum in the UK’
Authors: L. Claxton, M. Taylor & E. Kay