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Chew on This: Scientists Find a Gum to Put Bite on Plaque

May 20, 1992|PAUL CHAVEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Little kids love it. Some baseball players find it better than chewing tobacco. And, pretty soon, chomping on a piece of gum might be more than fun: It might be good for you too.

After 10 years of research, scientists at Purdue University have created a chewing gum that they say helps to remove plaque. And a La Jolla firm named Premedent Technology Ltd. is trying to bring the gum to market.

If all goes to plan, sometime before the end of the year, when you pop a stick of chewing gum into your mouth you could be taking a big step toward preventing cavities and gum disease, said Stan Becker, vice president of Premedent. "This gum will remove 20%-25% of the plaque on your teeth," he said.

The anti-plaque gum, which tastes and feels like regular gum, uses a special ingredient that "brushes" against the teeth, removing plaque, Becker said. The active agent, calcined kaolin, not only removes plaque, but polishes the teeth as well.

"It smoothes and polishes the teeth, which leaves less surface area for plaque to adhere to," Becker said.

According to Carl Kleber, 42, one of the dental scientists at Purdue who invented the gum, plaque buildup is the primary cause for both cavities and gum disease. The gum should not be used in place of brushing, but as a supplement, Kleber said.

"If people would brush properly and very thoroughly, there might not be a need for this gum," Kleber said. "But, since they don't, there is a need for it."

Kleber noted that only 15% of the population floss their teeth regularly. He also said that most people miss about half of the plaque on their teeth when they brush. He claimed studies show that children, in particular, are horrible tooth-brushers.

"This gum will definitely contribute to oral health," Kleber said.

According to Kleber, the anti-plaque additive is mixed with a conventional gum base, the same base that is sold to regular gum makers.

The additive, gentle enough to keep the teeth's enamel intact, has been formulated so that it tastes and feels like regular gum, Kleber said.

"It's kind of like toothpaste, you don't feel any grittiness," Kleber said.

With its common base, the variety of anti-plaque gums is almost endless. Becker said that the gum could eventually come in any size, flavor and shape; chewing or bubble-gum.

"We recommend using sugarless formulations, of course," said Kleber, the dental research scientist.

To receive the gum's maximum benefit, Kleber recommended that it be chewed about three times a day, for about a half-hour each time.

"The longer you chew and the bigger the piece, the greater the effect," Kleber said.

Premedent Technology said that the gum is ready for commercial use. Clinical tests have proven the gum safe, and Becker said that, already, several Fortune 100 companies have expressed an interest in acquiring the rights to the gum.

"We think there is a tremendous market for this product," Becker said.

Could dental ice cream be next?

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