A protein-powered chewing gum developed by United States Army researchers could help troops avoid the frequent dental problems that arise when they are in the field for days on end without cleaning their teeth.

Lab trials of the chewing gum, which contains a protein called KSL, showed that it decreased plaque and killed harmful mouth bacteria such as Streptococcus mutans.

“This chewing-gum formulation could have numerous potential uses; not only for the military, but also for the avid outdoorsman and anyone else on the go,” says Patrick DeLuca, PhD,  of the University of Kentucky, Lexington, Ky, who presented the team’s results at the recent annual meeting of the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists in Nashville.

According to Kai Leung of the US Army Dental Research Detachment in Great Lakes, Ill, unlike the antibacterial compounds found in mouthwash, which users are advised not to swallow, proteins are broken down by digestive enzymes once they reach the stomach. So the chewing gum should not interfere with the normal bacterial make-up of the gut.

The gum will have to undergo rigorous trials in human subjects before it can be approved as a standard part of the military ration pack.