Sugar-Free Gum: The Cost Effective Way to Prevent Preterm Births
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Over 374 billion pieces of gum are sold every year. Initially founded by the Mayans and Aztecs as a way to quench hunger and thirst, chewing gum later evolved to become a sweet treat and a way to freshen your breath. This tasty and addictive version took off in the late 1800s. However, dentists and doctors soon began considering its harmful effects, leading to healthier versions of gums filling the shelves. Made as an alternative to sweet, flavored gum, sugar-free gum not only provides oral benefits but may prevent preterm births.
Preterm births are births of babies that occur before 37 weeks, which results in them being underdeveloped. Their lack of maturity causes short and long-term complications, many of which are the leading causes of the high mortality rate of children under the age of five. Such complications include trouble breathing due to an immature respiratory system, metabolism problems from their smaller glucose storage, and a higher risk of developing chronic health problems. With the many complications that exist after birth, many preterm babies do not survive past their first few months and fall victim to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Premature babies have been a common issue near the Lilongwe area of Malawi, Africa, with a 19.3 percent of babies being born preterm. The lack of resources and technology is a significant factor contributing to the high premature rates. Additionally, past studies have shown the link between preterm births and periodontal disease due to composition change occurring in the oral mycobacterial community. The change allows bacteria to inflame the gums and enter the bloodstream, reaching various organs in the body. The link is supported by another study that found that 70 percent of pregnant and postpartum Malawi women are more prone to cavities and gum diseases. Scientists conducted a study in Lilongwe in an effort to find cost-effective prevention of premature births.
The study enrolled over 10,000 pregnant and nonpregnant women, giving advice to all women on how to prevent preterm births and improve dental health. Additionally, half of the 10,000 women received sugar-free gum that contained xylitol, a natural sweetener from fruits and vegetables that is found to help reduce plaque buildup and tooth decay. The decrease in preterm births in the group that chewed the xylitol gum is promising. The group of women who were given gum had 13 percent preterm births compared to the 17 percent preterm births in the control group. Even after the study was conducted, scientists kept track of the children’s growing progress. As of right now, the children are growing at a healthy rate for their age, which is a huge improvement from the slower growth usually exhibited by preterm children.
The positive changes brought by this experiment provide our generation with a cost-effective way to help prevent preterm births in the future and improve our gum health in the meantime. As we are still young, pregnancy may not be of concern to us right now, but taking care of our dental health will always be important. Chewing xylitol gum offers benefits besides preventing preterm births for all generations by decreasing the chance of cavity growth and oral health diseases. The many effects of chewing gum is proving to be more and more helpful with time, paving the way for a minty-fresh future.