Research in Focus: Using Chewing Gum to Improve Oral Health

As part of #BiofilmWeek, we’re highlighting interesting and exciting biofilm research being undertaken across our NBIC partner research institutions by early career researchers, PhD students and our Interdisciplinary Research Fellows.

We interviewed Katherine Roe, a PhD student from the University of Southampton, to find out about her project, which is all about investigating how antimicrobials incorporated in chewing gums can be used to improve oral health. Her PhD is funded by BBSRC in collaboration with Mondelez, one of the world’s largest snacking companies.

What are the problems that your research works to address?

Dental plaque is a type of biofilm, being made up of a mix of over different 700 bacterial species. Everybody will have some form of oral biofilm and usually this is completely harmless. However, if left unmanaged these dental biofilms can thicken, create anaerobic pockets, and allow harmful bacteria to flourish. These biofilms can then cause oral diseases such as chronic bad breath, dental cavities, and tooth loss.

With one in two people world-wide experiencing oral diseases, new innovative methods for improving oral health need to be developed. I aim to provide insight into how the combination of antimicrobials with the mechanical actions of chewing gums can be used to improve oral health and reduce disease progression. This type of biofilm interference is biofilm management, as you won’t be able to remove 100% of the oral microbiome.

Are there any highlights from your research you can tell us about?

During my PhD I have developed a novel model for oral biofilm growth with incorporates the mechanical chewing action, created new antimicrobial chewing gums, then tested them in the chewing machine. I then furthered this model by using an ex vivo sample to create a multispecies biofilm which was later exposed to antimicrobials and chewing. Using 16S sequencing and confocal microscopy I could then analyse what effects the antimicrobials and chewing were having on the oral microbiome.

How has NBIC supported you with your research or in your career?

Throughout my PhD, NBIC and Mondelez have provided me with opportunities to meet other biofilm researchers, gain valuable industry experience and participate in outreach events. Most recently I travelled to London to help with the NBIC stand at New Scientist Live, this was a fantastic experience communicating with the public about what bacteria and biofilms are and how they can be both good and bad in the context of wastewater treatment and oral health.

Ex vivo saliva and plaque biofilm, stained with Live/Dead imaged on a confocal microscope. The live bacteria are green and the red are dead.
Ex vivo saliva and plaque biofilm, stained with Live/Dead imaged on a confocal microscope. This biofilm has been exposed to antimicrobials and the mechanical actions of chewing gum.

Have you been involved in any public engagement or outreach related to your work?

I have been quite heavily involved in the delivery of the annual Science and Engineering Day which we host at the University of Southampton. This is a fantastic opportunity to engage with the general public and discuss the research that we’re currently doing in-house in our lab, and also highlight the exciting opportunities that lay ahead in our field in the study of biofilms and microorganisms.

Find out more

If you are interested in learning more about this project and would like to connect with Katherine please contact NBIC at


Katherine Roe, PhD student with the University of Southampton. 

Doctoral Training Centre Katie Roe