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Army Declares War on Tooth Cavities

Feb 07, 2014

The U.S. Army has been chewing on a new triple-threat weapon for soldiers since 2005. Originally intended for troops deployed to austere environments with no running water, Army researchers later decided to tweak the new weapon before charging full-tilt into the breach.

Combat Gum in Testing
Photo Source: BusinessInsider.com

In this war, the enemy is harmful oral health that costs America more than $100 billion in annual dental services for America’s troops.

The new weapon is an anti-cavity gum nicknamed “Combat Gum” and it has been ordered into year-long field tests beginning this month. War games for the peppermint-flavored anti-cavity gum will be held at the Oral Health Research Institute at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis with 137 civilian subjects.

Plans are for a portion of the study participants to chew the gum for 20 minutes after each meal, three times a day.  The experimental gum contains a water soluble, anti-microbial peptide known as KSL-W that fights plaque, cuts cavities and cleans teeth

The Army has made it clear the new gum is not meant to replace brushing and flossing, but can help high-risk soldiers that account for 15 percent of the active duty force. “Oral health is essential to warriors on the battlefield and could potentially save the military countless hours and dollars in dental health,” said Col. Robert Hale, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon and commander of the Army Institute at Surgical Research.  

Of all disease-related, non-battle related injuries that cause soldier evacuations, more than 10 percent are due to dental emergencies.

The principal researcher for Combat Gum is Kai Leung, a microbiologist and the Director of Science for the U.S. Army Dental and Trauma Research Detachment. Col. Hale said Leung discovered the compound while studying bacteria colonies that mimic mouth bacteria.

In addition to the civilian field trials beginning this month, the Army is currently distributing Combat Gum to high-risk troops and those scheduled soon for field operations. Initially the new gum is costing about $2 per piece to make, but those costs should eventually come down following Food and Drug Administration approval and over-the-counter availability to the general public.

If Combat Gum does become commercially available, it would’t be the first time an oral health invention was used by the military before being introduced to the public. In World War II, Dupont de Nemours introduced the world’s first nylon toothbrush. Nylon and synthetic materials bristles are the most commonly used in today’s toothbrushes.

Sources: Washington Times, USA Today, usaisr.amedd.army.mil, cbsnews.com


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