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Wednesday, 7 June, 2000, 11:25 GMT 12:25 UK
Chew gum 'to beat tooth decay'
Chewing gum
Chewing gum can protect teeth from decay
Child tooth decay could be significantly reduced if schoolchildren were encouraged to chew sugar-free gum, a leading dentist has said.

Tooth decay among children costs 45m a year to treat in the UK, and British 15-year-olds have an average of 2.5 teeth filled or extracted through preventable decay.

One significant cause of the problem is that children are drinking more fizzy drinks.

When drunk between meals, these drinks cause the mouth to become more acidic. This softens the enamel - the outer protective coating of the teeth - and increases the risk of decay.

Dr Paula Moynihan, president of the nutrition group of the International Association for Dental Research, told a conference of the British Nutrition Foundation that the UK should follow the lead of Finland, where sugar-free chewing gum is given to nursery school children.


Teeth
Fizzy drinks attack the enamel that protects teeth

Dr Moynihan said gum containing xylitol, a sweetener made from the bark of the silver birch, had two major benefits for teeth.

Chewing gum has long been known to stimulate saliva, which helps to clear food particles.

Research has also suggested that xylitol reduces the number of potentially harmful Streptococcus mutans bacteria in the mouth.

This bacteria has been linked to increased risk of tooth decay.

Dr Moynihan also advised children to only drink fizzy drinks at meal times, and to switch to milk drinks which contain calcium to strengthen the teeth.

The British Dental Association is in favour of chewing sugar-free gum.

It says: "Sugar-free gum has a positive benefit for dental health by increasing salivary flow during chewing, which helps to dilute and neutralise plaque acidity.

"There is general scientific agreement now that chewing sugar-free gum can help to protect teeth against decay."

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22 Dec 99 | Health
Cheesy meals 'cut tooth decay'
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