Looking after our oral health on the go can sometimes be difficult, indulging in that caramel latte on the way to work, rushing lunch before a meeting or a chocolatey mid-afternoon snack to get you through to dinner time all has an impact on our teeth.
Yes we all may brush our teeth for two minutes twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, but between the first and last brush our teeth can come under a constant attack if we don't not give them time to recover.
Our teeth are at risk of acid attack after we eat and drink anything, especially if what we consume has sugar in it. This acid is produced by plaque bacteria, and the sugars in our food and drink, which slowly dissolves the enamel and dentine of the tooth leading to cavities forming.
But new evidence has shown that incorporating sugar-free gum into our on the go lifestyles can benefit our oral health. Although not a replacement for brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, chewing after eating or drinking can help our teeth recover quicker and keep our mouths healthy.
Sugar-free gum as part of your oral health routine
The process of chewing sugar-free gum helps the mouth to produce more saliva - the mouth's natural defence against acid; it usually takes our saliva about an hour to replace the minerals that the enamel has lost after eating. But chewing sugar-free gum for 20 minutes after eating or drinking increases the flow of saliva, and helps replace the minerals more quickly.
This diagram (right) shows how our tooth enamel is at risk from acid attack after food and drink, and how long it takes the acid level in the mouth to return to the safe zone. pH is the measure of acidity, with levels below 5.5 being acid enough to soften tooth enamel. Chewing sugar-free gum after eating can quickly lower the amount of time that acid attacks the teeth.
Sugar-free gum could be an easy and effective addition to our families' oral health routines. We recommend that, while brushing for two minutes twice a day is still the best way to keep teeth clean and healthy, chewing sugar-free gum during the day can be effective in neutralising harmful plaque acids and reducing the risk of decay.
There is also potential that through effective use of sugar-free gum we can help address the decline of oral health problems in the UK and the strain this is putting on NHS resources.
Can sugar-free gum help the NHS become unstuck?
More than a million patients use NHS dental services each week, many of them to treat problems which are almost entirely preventable if caught early enough, this costs the NHS a staggering £3.4bn every year.
A 2013 study showed that more than a third of 12-year-olds surveyed in the UK had obvious decay in their permanent teeth, while other studies have demonstrated that poor oral health as a child or adolescent can lead to poor oral health as an adult, creating a potentially vast NHS cost throughout the patient's lifetime, through treatment such as the replacement of fillings and the implantation of crowns, bridges and prosthetics.
New health economic research published in the British Dental Journal suggests that if all 12-year-olds across the UK chewed sugar-free gum after eating or drinking the NHS could save around £8.2 million a year on dental treatments - the equivalent to 364,000 dental check-ups.
Tooth decay is preventable but treating it can be a huge burden on the NHS and family finances, as well as on self-esteem, confidence and ultimately our overall physical and mental health.
British Dental Health Foundation Trustee and co-author of the research, Professor Liz Kay of Peninsula Dental School, (Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry) highlighted the exciting effect the findings could have on the helping people improve their oral health.
She stressed that whilst these figures are significant, they only 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.