Chewing Gum and Your Tooth Health

There are many different philosophies regarding chewing gum. Some may think it’s a dirty habit, and others find it a useful way to stave hunger. Whatever your opinion on chewing gum, you should realize that it’s a growing multi-million dollar industry.

Recently, companies have marketed vitamin-fortified gum, medicinal gums, and more. With all the hype, it’s important to be aware of gum and its potential effects on our teeth. Not all chewing gums are for the same purpose, so let’s first consider its most common uses today.

Benefits of Chewing Gum

People often chew gum for a variety of reasons. Other than the “functional” gums mentioned above, there are some common benefits to chewing gum. People chew gum for a variety of reasons. These could be in order to:
  • Freshen breath
  • Moisten a dry mouth
  • Relieve air pressure in the ears
  • Clean their teeth after a meal
  • Reduce the urge to eat

With these apparent benefits, chewing gum has quickly become a lucrative industry and common practice. But what is actually in this concoction?

Common Chewing Gum Ingredients

An ingredient referred to as gum base makes up the indigestible and rubbery component of chewing gum. While it used to come from tree resin and other natural materials, synthetic types are now the norm.

Chewing gum contains vegetable oils to soften texture and glycerin to maintain moisture. In addition to these basic ingredients, most chewing gum contains colourings and preservatives. It also has natural and artificial flavourings, and of course sugar.

We know that sugared chewing gums can be harmful to teeth, so top companies often sell sugarless gum. Despite its lack of sugar, sugarless gum still features many sugar replacements including aspartame, xylitol, mannitol, and sorbitol.

The last three in this list are natural sugars that refrain from breaking down in our mouths. This resistance to bacterial break down prevents decay-causing acid from forming in our mouths.

But in 2011, a study by the British Dental Journal showed that these “safe” sugar replacements may have adverse effects on teeth. When combined with acidic flavourings, such sweeteners can break down and result in dental erosion. These acidic flavourings are often found in fruit-flavoured sugar-free gum.

So when you buy chewing gum, make sure to avoid acidic flavourings to prevent this from occurring. But when not paired with acidic flavourings, xylitol and similar natural sugars can play a role in cavity prevention.

Chewing Gum and Tooth Decay

If acid from broken down food and sugars remains in your mouth over time, it creates a prime environment for decay. Our mouths naturally combat this with saliva production that brings phosphates and calcium to strengthen tooth enamel. Statistics show that you can also prevent tooth decay by chewing sugarless gum after a meal.

Sugarless gum accomplishes this by featuring xylitol and other natural sugars that won’t break down into acid. Chewing gum also stimulates saliva flow to the mouth. This prevents acids from adhering to teeth and creating decay. In fact, some dentists prescribe special chewing gum to patients with dry mouth to help avoid further decay.

Xylitol in particular inhibits the growth of streptococcus, one cavity-causing bacteria in our mouths. If you often chew gum with xylitol, it can reduce the amount of decay-causing bacteria in your mouth over time.

Conversely, chewing gum with breakable (or regular) sugars leave harmful acids that cause decay. Whether you prefer spearmint or winterfresh, make sure you gum is free of sugar and acidic flavourings. One way to ensure you’re getting beneficial gum is to look for the Canadian Dental Association seal. This seal supports that the chewing gum actually does what it says. These claims might include that the gum:

  • Remineralizes teeth
  • Reduces decay
  • Stimulates saliva flow
  • Reduces gingivitis

So if you need something to chew on, look for the CDA seal to find teeth-friendly chewing gum.

Potential Pitfalls of Chewing Gum

Despite the possible benefits of sugarless chewing gum, don’t believe just any sugarless label. “Sugarless” is not a failsafe for teeth, as we learned before about acidic flavourings. And although sugarless, some types of chewing gum still contain plenty of calories and potentially harmful preservatives. Always read the label to avoid getting something less than healthy.

Also, constant chewing is not necessarily good for your jaw. If you experience tightness or pain, stop chewing gum immediately. These may be early symptoms of temporomandibular disorder or joint dysfunction (TMD/TMJ). Otherwise, keep your chewing habits moderate to avoid damaging your jaw.

People may also mistake sugarless gum benefits for a complete dental care routine. Whether you chew gum or not, nothing can replace brushing and flossing twice each day. It takes more than xylitol and saliva to prevent decay. Make the choice today to maintain a consistent dental care routine, including regular visits to the dentist.
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