Gum to Test for Inflammation in Mouth

Researchers from the University of Würzburg in Germany have developed a chewing gum that is capable of detecting inflammation in the mouth. The research was motivated by the fact that 6% to 15% of patients who receive dental implants develop an inflammatory response in in the years that follow. This is caused by bacteria destroying the soft tissue and the bone around the dental implant.

The researchers provided proof of a principle by using studies of the saliva of patients at Merli Dental Clinic in Rimini. They showed that in the presence of inflammatory conditions, specific protein-degrading enzymes are activated in the mouth. These same enzymes break down a special ingredient of chewing gum within five minutes to release a bittering agent that could not be tasted before. In the future, patients will benefit from this method using a chewing gum diagnostic test to assess whether they carry any bacteria that leads to mouth inflammation.

If there is an inflammation in the oral cavity, a bittering agent is released while chewing the gum. Patients then visit their dentist who confirms the diagnosis and treats the disease. This is a quick and affordable diagnostic approach. This type of early detection aims at preventing serious complications such as bone loss. This test it easy in that it can be used anywhere and without any special costly equipment.

The invention and work was described in the the journal “Nature Communication” in 2017.

Right now the chewing gum that detects mouth inflammation is not commercially available. The researchers plan to set up a company to produce it but it may take several years before someone can buy this chewing gum. It is also important to note that a chewing gum test for other medical applications is currently being developed. It would certainly be interesting if patients could just chew a piece of gum and be able to diagnose diseases that their doctors could then readily treat. This would help prevent future problems and preserve patients health in a faster and more efficient way than what one can do today.

Source: J. Ritzer and etl al., Diagnosing peri-implant disease using the tongue as a 24/7 detector, Nature Communications, vol.8, issue 1, 2017.

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