Global Health Nexus, Winter 2004

Study: Chewing Gum and CDs May Help Students Master Dental Anatomy

Remember those bubble-gum blowing contests in elementary school that drove teachers crazy? Well, now it turns out that chewing gum and CDs may have a beneficial effect on learning — at least when it comes to studying dental anatomy, according to a four-month pilot study to assess the effects of chewing gum on learning and to compare traditional versus computer-assisted methods of teaching dental anatomy. The study was funded by chewing gum manufacturer, Wm. Wrigley, Jr., Company, and conducted by Dr. Kenneth L. Allen, Assistant Professor of General Dentistry and Management Science; Dr. Diana L. Galvis, Instructor in Cariology and Operative Dentistry; and Dr. Ralph V. Katz, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Epidemiology & Health Promotion.

They divided 56 first-year students into two groups: One group was required to chew gum while studying dental anatomy, and the other group was required to refrain from gum-chewing. When written examination scores for the two groups were evaluated, the gum- chewing group scored better, with an average score of 83.6 on a 25-question written examination, versus 78.8 for the nonchewing group. Dr. Allen said that while this difference is not statistically significant, it did represent the spread between a B- and a C+. “Past research has shown an increase in hemoglobin in human brain tissue after mastication,” said Dr. Allen, “but findings suggesting a direct correlation between chewing gum and increased learning have been anecdotal, prior to our study. Dental anatomy as taught to DDS candidates is a course well suited to study the effect of chewing gum, since it involves mastering both theory and the hands-on skill needed to duplicate the tooth in wax.”

In addition, one group of students received a standard, 50-minute anatomy lecture, while the comparison group received only an instructional, commercially available compact disk on dental anatomy. Both groups had standard dental anatomy laboratory training over three days. When average written examination scores were reviewed, the CD group scored 83.7, versus 81.3 for the lecture group, suggesting that a self-study CD is as effective as a standard lecture. There was no difference in scores on the practical examination.

“It has been reported that approximately 61 percent of all households and most dentists have access to personal computers,” Dr. Allen noted. “Our study used the premise that the presence of PCs in the home will contribute to computer-assisted learning becoming increasingly influential in all learning, not solely in learning dental anatomy. The next step is to conduct a larger study to see if the data can be replicated.”