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Army Develops New Weapon Against … Cavities?

Yes, cavities. Poor oral health costs the military a bundle of money every year. Colonel Robert Hale, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon and commander of the U.S. Army Dental and Trauma Research Detachment, said that about 40% of Army recruits enter the service with at least three cavities. “All necessary dental work must be done before the troops deploy,” said Hale, “which could mean they miss valuable basic training time.” Dental health issues also cause headaches (and toothaches) after deployment: The military reports that dental emergencies account for more than 10% of disease-related injuries that lead to evacuation of soldiers.

The Army’s revolutionary new “Combat Gum” takes direct aim at the dental health issue. Kai Leung, a microbiologist for the dental and trauma research detachment, came up with the idea for a plaque-fighting gum after studying bacteria colonies similar to those that multiply in the mouth. A team of scientists in San Antonio, Texas has spent seven years developing the gum, which contains an anti-microbial peptide that enhances the body’s natural ability to kill bacteria that produces plaque, the cause of tooth decay.
Originally conceived to help troops in environments with no running water, Combat Gum would first be reserved for high-risk soldiers, who equal about 15% of the total force (but 40% of new recruits). Soldiers would be asked to chew the peppermint-flavored gum for 20 minutes after meals.

Combat Gum’s first clinical trial is set for this month (February 2014) at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. If the gum acts as expected, it will go through more Food and Drug Administration-required trials before it’s available for Army use. If the new “weapon” is a success, civilians should also be able to use it to battle dental disease: Hale estimates that the gum will be available by prescription in the next three to five years, and for purchase over-the- counter in seven to ten years. And though each piece of the gum costs $2 each, it should be worth the cost. “Oral health is essential to warriors on the battlefield and could potentially save the military countless hours and dollars in dental health,” said Hale. “[And] it would save a lifetime of dental disease for a significant population.”

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