14 May 2018

It’s been over 40 years since the first sugarfree chewing gum went on sale in the UK, introduced during a time of growing awareness around the need to protect teeth. New research shows how the oral health and eating habits of people in the UK are still changing, with almost half eating at least five times a day now, and oral health advice needs to catch up to these evolving habits.

Britons’ diets and oral health needs have changed dramatically since 1977, with many people no longer eating the traditional three meals a day - that oral health guidelines are based on - with 83% of adults in the UK saying they have at least one snack between main meals on a typical weekday.[1] With so much eating on the go, traditional oral health methods aren’t cutting it. New research has found that morning and afternoon snacks are least likely to be followed by an oral care intervention, despite over half of UK adults being aware of the impact food and drink can have on their oral health.[2]

Chewing sugarfree gum after eating and drinking can be a vital addition to our dental health routine as it stimulates the production of saliva which helps the neutralisation of plaque acids. The oral care benefits of sugarfree gum are recognised by the FDI World Dental Federation[3], and supported by national dental associations worldwide including the Oral Health Foundation[4] but not widely known by the public. Recent polling has shown only 36% chew sugarfree gum for oral health reasons; however 42% of all those surveyed said they would be more likely to chew sugarfree gum after being told of its oral health benefits.[5]

Michael Dodds, Senior Principal Oral Health Scientist for Wrigley says: “Chewing sugarfree gum after eating and drinking is a great way to enhance the mouths natural ability to fight dental disease by neutralising plaque acids and supporting tooth remineralisation. Looking back to the state of the nation’s teeth when Wrigley launched the UK’s first sugarfree gum in 1977 makes you realise how far we have come, through a combination of Government public health policies and individuals and families making healthier choices.

“There is still a long way to go before we end preventable oral health problems but hopefully by working together achieving this won’t take another 40 years.”

Back in the 1970s, the launch of the UK’s first sugarfree gum brand, ORBIT®, chimed with a growing awareness of the need for better oral health, after a rise in sugar consumption after the end of rationing.

The launch of ORBIT® in 1977 saw a wave of publicity highlighting the oral health benefits of chewing sugarfree gum. In the same year, the first public oral health education campaign was launched, Smile ’77 (now known as National Smile Month), and the General Dental Council launched a campaign to make people more aware of the daily routines needed to take care of their teeth, all signalling the start of a change in the dental profession’s focus from treating oral health problems to preventing them.

The combination of better awareness and new products made a marked difference to the nation’s oral health. Shockingly, in 1978, the Government’s Adult Dental Health Survey found that 28% of adults in the UK had no natural teeth. In the most recent survey in 2009, the figure was 6%[6].Today’s guidelines for oral health are at a similar turning point. The decline of traditional patterns of eating and the fact that many people choose to eat on the go means that modern prevention strategies are having to adapt to promote an accessible, cheap and easy oral healthcare regime.

CEO of the Oral Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter OBE says: “I vividly remember the era of drill and fill dentistry where nearly everyone attending the practice would need some sort of tooth restoration. Things have changed so much; whilst there is still far too much tooth decay around, the dental team now spend almost as much time educating people on the best ways to take care of their teeth as treating problems. Chewing sugarfree gum after you eat was a step change in oral care in 1970s and is even more relevant to our lifestyles today.”

To learn more about the benefits of sugarfree gum, visit the Wrigley Oral Healthcare Programme website.


1. Kantar TNS’ online omnibus survey (Onlinebus) of 2,743 UK adults. Conducted April 2017

2. Kantar TNS’ online omnibus survey (Onlinebus) of 2,743 UK adults. Conducted April 2017

3. Szoke J, et al. ffect of after-meal sucrose-free gum-chewing on clinical caries. J Dent Res. 2001;80:1725-9.

4. Oral Health Foundation. Caring for Teeth › Sugar-free chewing gum. Last Accessed: January 2015. Available at: https://www.dentalhealth.org/tell-me-about/topic/caring-for-teeth/sugar-free-chewing-gum

5. Kantar TNS’ online omnibus survey (Onlinebus) of 2,743 UK adults. Conducted April 2017

6. BDJ, Adult Dental Health Survey 2009: transformations in British oral health 1968–2009, LINK