The appliance of science

After many years of being on the sticky end of some bad press, chewing gum may just have come of age.

The clinical evidence supporting the multifaceted benefits of chewing sugarfree gum has silenced many critics and clinicians are beginning to embrace it as an acceptable part of day-to-day oral health care.

Lives grow ever faster and busier and so the ‘affordable, on the go’ way of practising good oral health is, according to Hamish Thomson, general manager of Wrigley here in the UK and the Republic of Ireland since 2011, the perfect complement to the conventional methods of tooth brushing, flossing and mouthrinsing.

But just how much has the perception of chewing gum changed since this raft of evidence? Hamish believes that, as more and more people appreciate the benefits of chewing to oral health so the social acceptability of chewing gum improves.

He explains: ‘Two big spikes have happened in recent years. Sugarfree gum hit the market in the 1970s and consumer perception changed as they welcomed an alternative, healthy option. But the bigger change came with the approval from the European Commission, supporting the oral health claims for sugarfree gum.’

An amazing 70% of UK teenagers chew gum, with 44% of the UK population as a whole doing so, too, although we are a little behind our US counterparts. As Hamish says: ‘The US is more of a gum-established market.’

The Wrigley Oral Healthcare Programme (WOHP)  has now been running for more than 20 years in the UK, with Hamish playing a huge part since joining the UK in 2011, ramping up the ‘Eat, Drink, Chew’ message so consumers understand the oral health benefits of chewing sugarfree gum. As a global brand that has established this credible base, Wrigley continues to partner with authoritative contacts, dentists hygienists and therapists.

As a platinum sponsor of National Smile Month, Wrigley increased its efforts to raise awareness from an in-store perspective because, Hamish explains, ‘we have a responsibility to drive that oral health message across via our 100,000 outlets. We play a key role’.

He is keen to stress that chewing sugarfree gum is ‘not a substitute for, but complementary to, an oral care routine’. He says: ‘What we have to offer is portability and our solution is complementary to at-home care. For 50p, people have a portable oral care solution.’

Recent changes in eating habits mean more people ‘grazing’ throughout the day and this has had an impact on oral health. Mouths are not getting the chance to neutralise plaque acids between meal times and teeth are suffering as a consequence.

Hamish says: ‘There is this trend towards grazing and I don’t think it is about to change with many of us working on the go. As your mouth is the pathway to your general wellbeing, it’s important to keep it healthy and we have an ability to influence that and have a role to play.’

Awareness within the profession of the benefits of chewing sugarfree gum is high; Hamish says: ‘We know that 50% of dentists and 60% of hygienists have recommended sugarfree gum and, via our sample programmes, advertising, attendance at industry events and through word of mouth, we are growing that professional endorsement.’

Wrigley takes its commitment to improving global oral health as seriously as it does the appliance of science to its products. Last year, the company partnered GSK and, on World Oral Health Day, took the findings of a major report on the State of Oral Health in Europe to parliament where MPs and dental experts discussed the report, issued by The Platform for Better Oral Health in Europe. Now looking ahead, Hamish points to Wrigley’s oral care lab of the future, based in Reading, as further proof of the company’s commitment to developing its products for the greater good of a nation’s oral health.

He says: ‘Our growth lab in the UK is dedicated to product development that will continue our commitment to improving oral care, working hand in hand with The Wrigley Science Advisory Council to make sure that science is at the forefront of making chewing gum increasingly relevant to oral care prevention.’ With a trend towards more preventative care (the NHS pilots are based on this premise), we are keen to establish a working relationship with dentists and hygienists. Chewing sugarfree gum is portable, convenient and affordable and this sea change in oral health care strategy works nicely with what we offer – ‘on the go’ oral health care which is both scientific and credible.’

 Fact file
 The Wrigley Science Institute (WSI), based in Chicago has supported independent researchers and leading institutions around the world with grants to conduct
 credible scientific testing that investigates the role of chewing gum in health, including oral health, and wellness. Chewing sugarfree gum after eating or drinking
 stimulates saliva that neutralises plaque acids, aids the remineralising of enamel to strengthen teeth and washes away food particles.1 It can also help in the management of xerostomia.2 Some preliminary research has also shown emerging science around chewing gum as a stress buster3 and to help with focus and concentration.4

1. Szóke J, Proskin HM, Banoczy J. Effect of after-meal sugarfree gum chewing on clinical caries. J Dent Res. 2001; 80(8): 1725-729
2. Salivary stimulation by chewing gum and lozenges in rheumatic patients with xerostomia. Risheim H, Arneberg P., Scand J Dent Res. 1993 Feb;101(1):40-3
3. Scholey, A. An investigation into the effects of gum chewing on mood
4. Smith, A. Effects of chewing gum on mood, learning, memory and performance of an intelligence test. Nutritional Neuroscience. 2009; 12: 82-88

Hamish Thomson became general manager in October 2011 just in time to celebrate 100 years of Wrigley in the UK. He was previously vice president and managing director of Wrigley Pacific. In this role Hamish was co-responsible for more than 400 associates, two factories, two commercial offices and 10 well-loved brands across Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.
To order free Wrigley Extra samples for your practice, or to sign up for the new Wrigley Oral Healthcare Programme CPD series, visit

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