05/08/2015  |  
Posted in tooth decay
The Army’s New Secret Weapon — Against Plaque

Uniform? Check. Service weapon? Check. Toothbrush and floss?

It’s no surprise that soldiers in the field don’t always take the time to maintain good oral hygiene. And that, as any dentist would tell you, can lead to a serious conflict… with cavities. In fact, a recent study in the journal Military Medicine showed that the U.S. Army spends over $21 million annually treating dental emergencies in deployed personnel — and this doesn’t account for the cost of follow-up treatment, or the decreased combat effectiveness of their units.

But now, the army is developing a new weapon against dental disease — and soldiers can carry it in their pockets. It’s a special type of chewing gum with a pharmaceutical-grade component that fights plaque. The active ingredient, known as KSL-W, is a synthetic compound that is modeled after naturally-occurring antimicrobial molecules found in saliva. These molecules inhibit the growth of potentially harmful oral bacteria — the “enemies” that are associated with cavity formation — but they leave “friendly” bacteria alone.

As they developed this dental defense system, researchers faced several challenges. They needed to ensure that the gum could deliver enough of the plaque-fighting ingredient in a short time, and that the compound would remain stable, both in the gum and in the saliva. In its present form, APCG (Anti-Plaque Chewing Gum) is formulated with a base of xylitol — a tooth-friendly sweetener that also enhances saliva production — plus a mild abrasive to help remove stubborn plaque. As of yet, there’s no word on how it tastes (but if the Sarge says chew, you’d better start chewing).

When will you be able to buy this gum in army-surplus stores? Not anytime soon. Right now, studies are underway to test the safety and effectiveness of this new weapon in the war against dental disease. Assuming it passes those tests, the FDA would likely consider the gum a new drug, and it would probably be marketed first as a prescription medication. But who knows? Someday, a civilian-grade APCG could report for duty at a pharmacy near you.


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