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A dental appliance designed to help dieters take smaller bites and eat more slowly hits the market today.
It's the latest addition to the $40 billion weight-loss industry, which caters to millions of Americans who are trying to lose weight. Some experts say the device may be helpful in changing behaviors. Others say this shows how truly desperate Americans have become.
The small retainer-like device, called the DDS System, fits into the top of a person's mouth, filling much of the upper cavity. The price: $400 to $500. It's available only through dentists who have been trained in fitting the appliance.
''You can pop it in when you go out to lunch and pop it out when you're finished,'' says William Longley, founder of Scientific Intake in Atlanta, which is making and marketing the product. The effect on speech is minor, and it doesn't interfere with swallowing, he says. Longley cites a study in Japan that showed those who ate more slowly weighed less. But some aren't convinced.
''You don't need a $500 device to slow yourself down when eating,'' says Keith Ayoob, a pediatric nutritionist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. ''You need to make your meal last a half an hour. Choose a smaller plate, serve yourself less food, and make sure you take that time to eat and relax for at least 30 minutes. That's easier to do if you eat with other people and carry on a conversation.
''The French manage to eat slowly without a device, because they make it a priority to enjoy the food experience.''
The appliance was the brainchild of a woman who had torus palatinus, a bulge of bone that grows from the center of the palate. She said it helped her stay thin all her life because she had to take smaller bites and eat more slowly. She got a patent on the appliance and licensed it to Longley almost three years ago.
To test the device, researchers at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge recruited 32 overweight people. Participants ate their meals at the center for two days. One day was a baseline to establish caloric intake. On the second day, half the volunteers wore the DDS System, and the other half didn't.
Researchers found that those wearing the dental appliance on the second day ate about 25% less food (in weight) over the course of a day than those who weren't wearing one. The DDS System ''has promise but needs additional research to examine its long-term utility,'' says Pennington researcher Don Williamson.
It usually takes patients a couple of meals to get used to wearing it.
''It doesn't work if you have it in your pocket,'' Longley says. And patients can override the benefits of the system by drinking milkshakes or other high-calorie drinks, he says.
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