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US army develops tooth-cleaning gum

By Simon Pitman , 21-Dec-2005

American soldiers could soon benefit from tooth-cleaning chewing gum. An army research team has developed an active ingredient that can be included in gum to keep mouths clean when toothpaste and brush are out of the question.

The discovery, which is currently being tested by the army, could also prove to be a major discovery for the oral care industry, which has experienced huge growth from the sale oral care chewing gum lines.

The chewing gum was originally developed to help out soldiers in action. On the battle field, cleaning teeth is often relegated to a low priority, and with bathroom facilities often non-existent it can become an impossibility.

Some 15 per cent of deployed soldiers claim to have experienced 'dental emergencies' such as gum infections, Kai Leung of the US Army Dental Research Detachment in Great Lakes, Illinois told news provider Nature.com in a report that was published last month.

The report also explains that US Army researchers developed a protein that attacks the bacteria that causes plaque, which can lead to gum disease. This protein can easily be incorporated into the gum, making it a serious alternative to toothbrush and toothpaste, the researchers claim.

The gum's active ingredient is a protein fragrment called KSL, and lab research has shown that the it can kill harmful bacterias.

Although the active ingredient is still to be tested on soldiers in action, the research team believe it could mean that soldiers will not have to reach for the toothpaste for at least a couple of days.

Patrick DeLuca of the University of Kentucky said that the chewing gum could also prove particularly useful for the outdoorsman and people on the go.

Although there are a range of tooth-friendly chewing gums available on the market, DeLuca adds that many of them simply increase saliva flow and do little to actually clean the teeth.

As the oral care category is currently a highly mature category, industry experts believe that future growth will depend on innovative niche products, which explains the boom in the market for tooth whitening products and oral care gum.

Euromonitor's Claire Briney says that the biggest dividends for the oral care category lye in highly functional products, which suggests tooth-cleaning chewing gum could have big potential.

Furthermore, it could also tap into the huge growth in on-the-go cosmetics, a category that is being driven by huge growth in travel and leisure activities.

However, the product is still only in the very early stages of trials on humans, so it will probably be a number of years before it appears on retailer shelves.

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