The data is significant given tooth decay and oral diseases rank fourth among the most expensive global health conditions to treat, according to the World Health Organization.2
While tooth decay is largely preventable, it still affects 60-90% of schoolchildren and nearly all adults globally.2
The study, a first of its kind globally, was funded by Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company and independently conducted by the Institute of Empirical Health Economics in Germany (IFEG) with input from an international scientific steering committee comprised of thought-leaders in dental and public health and economics, including Prof Elizabeth Kay of Peninsula Dental School, Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry.
Researchers modelled a potential decrease in dental care costs from tooth decay for 25 industrialised countries including the UK. The study follows a piece of research in 2016 which revealed that the NHS could save up to £8.2 million per annum if all twelve year olds in the UK were to increase their chewing of sugarfree gum. Conducted by the York Health Economics Consortium and Peninsula Dental School, Plymouth University, with funding from Wrigley, the study was an initial exploration into the potential cost savings that chewing of sugarfree gum could bring.
"The study represents a solid and substantial approach to the accurate calculation of cost savings in industrial countries that would arise from increasing sugar-free gum consumption," said Professor Reinhard Rychlik, MA MD, PhD, PhD, Director of the IfEG and the study's lead author. "Chewing sugar-free gum as a preventive measure for tooth decay has the potential to deliver significant dental care cost savings worldwide."
Commenting on the research, Professor Liz Kay said "Good policy making in all areas of health is driven by health economic analyses. For some reason, until now, oral health has failed to be subjected to this necessary scrutiny. This study corrects that omission, and in doing so, clearly demonstrates the urgent necessity for Governments to act and introduce guidelines to control the increasing financial burden of oral health, and in doing so enhance the health and wellbeing of their populations."
Recognised Oral Health Benefits of Sugarfree Gum
Global rates of tooth decay continue to present a major public health concern - nearly all adults experience tooth decay2 - suggesting that new preventive strategies may be required to supplement existing measures in reducing the risk of tooth decay and improving oral health. The results of this health economic study suggest that the role of sugarfree gum should be promoted in national preventative oral health care advice alongside other proven oral hygiene behaviours.
Chewing sugarfree gum increases the production of saliva, which can help wash away food particles and can help to restore optimum plaque pH levels faster.3 These benefits can help prevent dental cavities, leading to potentially major cost savings for health-care systems.
The oral care benefits of chewing sugarfree gum are currently recognised by regulatory bodies, including the European Commission and some national governments,3,4 by the FDI World Dental Federation and nearly 20 national dental associations worldwide including the Oral Health Foundation in the UK.
"There is already substantial clinical evidence regarding the benefits of chewing sugarfree gum. This study underscores this clinical data and clearly demonstrates the potential cost savings of regular chewing of sugarfree gum," said Michael Dodds, BDS, Ph.D., the lead oral health scientist at Wrigley.
Dr Nigel Carter, CEO of the Oral Health Foundation commented on the new research: "The findings of the 2016 UK pilot study had demonstrated that sugarfree gum is a simple but effective way of helping people improve their oral health. The numbers for the UK alone were significant and showed us that there is real potential to create substantial savings which would relieve the growing pressure on our healthcare system. Seeing these results at a global level is hugely exciting, and we hope the research will encourage dental professionals to communicate the potential role that sugarfree gum can play in preventing dental decay as part of a good oral care regime."
1. Rychlik R, Kreimendahl F, Blaich C et al (2017). A global approach to assess the economic benefits of increased consumption of sugar-free chewing gum. Am J Dent, in press.
2. World Health Organisation. Oral Health Disease Burden. Last Accessed August 2016. Available at: www.who.int/oral_health/disease_burden/global/en/
3. EFSA (2010) Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of a health claim related to sugarfree chewing gum and reduction of tooth demineralisation which reduces the risk of dental caries pursuant to Article 14 of Regulation (EC) No 1924/20061. Available at: http://www.efsa.europa.eu/sites/default/files/scientific_output/files/main_documents/1775.pdf. Last accessed: October 2015
4. Health Canada. Summary of Health Canada's assessment of a health claim about sugarfree chewing gum and dental caries risk reduction. Available at: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/label-etiquet/claims-reclam/assess-evalu/gum-gomme-dental-carie-dentaireeng.php Last accessed December 2016.