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Saving Soldiers’ Teeth

Saving Soldiers’ Teeth

April 19, 2006
By: Jesse Ball for Dental1

Can you forget about brushing your teeth? Well, not exactly – at least, not yet. But, the Army Dental and Trauma Research Detachment is in the process of developing a gum that soldiers can use to clean their teeth while in combat.

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Gum and Your Teeth

Non-sugar gums can help breakdown plaque.

Xylitol gum has been in use by the military for this purpose for many years.

Chewing xylitol three times per day for 30 days has been shown to increase cavity protection for as long as six months, even without regular brushing.

The new KSL should prove even more effective than gum with xylitol.

It's important to not replace traditional care with dental gum!


Battlefield Measure

Since statistics started being collected during the Vietnam War, data shows there has been a consistent rate of actual dental emergencies among soldiers. That rate stands at 15 to 20 percent. This may sound high, but Colonel Dennis Runyan, a career army dentist, explains, “When a soldier's getting shot at, they don't take the time to brush and floss.”

On modern battlefields the tempo is tremendous and virtually non-stop, says Runyan. Unfortunately, one of the things that suffers is oral hygiene.

However, the new gum is not intended to replace the traditional methods of flossing and brushing. It's a measure to help the troops in situations where the time for more orthodox methods might not exist.

Dental plaque is a “bio-film” of great strength and tenacity, as most people are well aware. The mechanical action of chewing gum has been previously regarded as a contender in breaking this bio-film. Regular chewing gums, and gum with xylitol have been effective in that.

Xylitol, a naturally occurring sugar-alcohol, has been in use by the U.S. Military for many years. It was introduced to the United States in 1976 and soon thereafter was prescribed to sailors. By the early ’90s, it had become a standard treatment and has even been included in Army MRE packs.

However, this new army gum has an added impact.

KSL?

KSL is an active ingredient in the new gum, which was developed with FDA approval. It acts to kill oral pathogens. KSL is a microbial peptide, and as such will be classified as a drug.

The ingredient is nearly tasteless, which is a major help, says Runyan.

The importance of taste in gum cannot be overestimated. It's crucial that the individual should have the desire to get the gum out and chew it. Daily chewing can be a product of daily hygiene. But, it's better if it's a product of desire, simply because the gum tastes good.

Soldiers’ Dental Hygiene

The U.S. Army takes steps to see that soldiers who are deployed to war have clean bills of health, and that includes dental health. Additionally, conditions in Iraq are better than in past conflicts. Most soldiers work out of a base, where they return at night. The routine of brushing before sleep is possible however, there are many other factors at play.

Kai Leun, the microbiologist who created KSL, said, "Imagine a soldier out in the desert. They are dead-tired; they might not have time to brush their teeth. We have to help them."

The Army Dental and Trauma Research Detachment, located at the Navy's Great Lakes base in Chicago, is expected to be developing the gum over the next three to four years.

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