Wherever people go, oral bacteria will go, too. That’s why any plan for travel to other planets or even other stars will have to consider the issue of oral hygiene and oral health.
Fortunately, a professor in Dubai is already looking for solutions to this problem. She has proposed that her silver star gum could play an important part in the solution, especially for UAE travelers to their proposed “first city on Mars” by 2117.
A City Built on Ambition
If building a city on Mars in just 100 years seems farfetched to you, it probably doesn’t seem as much so for Dubaians. That’s because just 40 years ago, their city was a pearl fishing village on the Persian Gulf–it didn’t even have paved roads. Now if is, arguably, the most advanced city in the world. (If the world’s tallest building doesn’t convince you, maybe the jetpack-wearing firefighters will.)
But, wait, you might ask, does the United Arab Emirates even have a space program? Barely. The UAE created its space agency in 2014, but it’s planning to hit the ground running. The goal is to send its first spacecraft to Mars by 2021–an orbiter that will not only provide crucial technical experience–it could help scout out sites for the city.
Although the Emir of Dubai describes the planned polis as a “mini-city and community on Mars,” the plans describe a pretty ambitious goal of establishing a Chicago-sized city of about 600,000 people.
Dental Health Challenges in Microgravity
A trip to Mars will be different from any spaceflight humans have undertaken. It might involved spending long periods in microgravity, which can pose several risks for our oral health. Perhaps the most significant is that our body would likely lose bone mass. Animal and human studies have shown that after extended periods in microgravity, our bones lose density, several key minerals, and blood vessels. These can put the jaw at risk of breaking and might increase the risk of tooth loss.
There is also the potential that plaque could become harder to deal with in space. Studies have shown that biofilms (which is what plaque is) grow more robust in microgravity than on Earth. This could make it harder to keep teeth clean.
How Star Gum Could Help
The new gum, which comes in a star-shaped silver package, is officially called “UAE Space Gum.” It’s designed to fight the challenges of spaceflight in many ways. First, repetitive chewing of gum could help stimulate the jaw muscles, jawbone, and other structures to keep them from losing mass while people make the six-month long journey.
Chewing gum is also a good way to help clean teeth. In addition to removing food particles from the teeth, gum can collect and trap oral bacteria. Chewing stimulates the production of saliva, which helps wash the teeth clean and contains natural antibiotics. The silver particles also help control oral bacteria, because they can kill the bacteria to help protect against cavities and gum disease.
Chewing gum can also help relieve tension on what promises to be a long, cramped voyage. .
It should be noted that chewing too much gum can contribute to the development of TMJ, though perhaps that’s not so much of a risk in a low-G environment.
A more serious problem is that the gum is currently sweetened with honey. The sugars in honey feed oral bacteria, which could undermine the benefits of the gum. A better formulation might be made with xylitol, which is commonly used in sugar-free gums. Xylitol can kill oral bacteria. Although bacteria can’t digest it, they think it’s sugar and take it in, which makes it harder for them to take in actual sugar. Plus, xylitol makes it harder for bacterial biofilms to cling to your teeth. That’s why it’s used in many CariFree products.
Maybe Dentists Should Fly, Too
Of course, another solution to the oral health challenges faced by people going to Mars is to have dentists go along with the travelers. At Excellence in Dentistry, we have an adventurous spirit, and if the opportunity arises we would have to seriously consider joining the expeditions. We have plenty of lasers to outfit the expedition with an advanced dental clinic.
If you are looking for an Anchorage dentist who is committed to the future of great dentistry, then please call (907) 349-0022 today for an appointment at Excellence in Dentistry.