The chewing of gum is said to be the world’s most common habit, with about 100,000 tons of it being consumed every year. Most of us are familiar with the negative aspects of chewing gum, when we find it on chairs, stuck under desks or contaminating pavements and therefore our shoes. However, there are also many benefits to chewing gum.
Studies have shown that chewing gum can have an indirect, positive effect on dental hygiene, teeth health. Chewing gum after meals helps to stimulate the production of saliva and overall salivary flow. Saliva helps to wash away and neutralize the acid produced by bacteria in plaque. This acid is responsible for dental decay and bad breath. Chewing gum can also help relieve pressure in your ears and sinuses by encouraging jaw movement.
The popular perception is that chewing gum is bad for the teeth. However, many dentists (one source says 90%!) believe that chewing sugarless gum after meals actually has health benefits! Indeed, Wrigley’s Orbit sugar-free gum was the first sugar-free chewing gum to be awarded accreditation by the British Dental Association (BDA) in recognition of its contribution to good oral health.
The benefits arise from the fact that tooth decay occurs when essential minerals are dissolved from the tooth enamel by acids produced by the bacteria in plaque. Teeth are at their most vulnerable directly after meals and snacks, when plaque acid levels can rise dramatically.
However, chewing gum removes these acids within minutes, thus slowing down the process of tooth decay. One reason for this is that chewing can stimulate saliva production by up to ten-fold, thus flushing out oral bacteria. Furthermore, saliva contains hydrogen carbonate ions, a mild alkali, which serves to neutralize plaque acids. For this reason, hydrogen carbonate is used in some toothpastes.
Saliva also contains minerals such as calcium, phosphate and fluoride – all components of tooth enamel – which can be assimilated and thus help to repair early decay and also strengthen tooth enamel.
On the other hand, chewing gum typically contains a sweetener of some type. Chewing gum that contains sugar, for example, can be harmful to your teeth. Sugar fuels the acid-producing bacteria in your mouth. Brands of gum containing sugar can be harmful to your teeth if these types of gum are chewed too often or are removed from the mouth too soon.
In fact, studies have shown that if a person chews gum containing sugar, it should be chewed for at least 15 to 20 minutes. After this time, the sugar is gone, but the saliva is sufficiently stimulated to rinse away some of the sugar residue.
There are, however, a number of sweeteners that help prevent cavities and reduce the acid production in your mouth. Xylitol, a natural sweetener found in many fruits and vegetables, tastes and looks like sugar but without the negative side effects. Chewing gum that contains high levels of xylitol fights cavities and dental decay by creating an unwelcome environment for bacteria. Xylitol is one of bacteria’s natural enemies-in a xylitol-rich environment, bacteria lose their ability to stick to teeth and are therefore unable to colonize and turn into plaque.
Researches by Brian A. Burt:
The use of sorbitol- and xylitol-sweetened chewing gum in dental caries control
The author compared the caries-inhibitory action of sorbitol- and xylitol-sweetened chewing gum and assessed the role of these products in caries prevention.
The author reviewed studies including randomized field trials with substantial numbers of participants and observational studies. He did not review case studies. He found studies through a MEDLINE search and by hand searching.
When compared with sugar-sweetened gum, sorbitol-sweetened gum had low carcinogenicity when it was chewed no more than three times per day. Xylitol-sweetened gum was noncariogenic in all of the protocols tested. Some studies claimed that xylitol-sweetened gum had an anticariogenic effect, though these claims need further study. There also is good evidence that when mothers of infants and young children chew xylitol-sweetened gum, it will block transmission of mutans streptococci from mother to child.
The evidence is strong enough to support the regular use of xylitol-sweetened gum as a way to prevent caries, and it can be promoted as a public-health preventive measure. Chewing xylitol-sweetened gum, especially for patients who like chewing gum, can be fitted readily into a regimen that includes frequent fluoride exposure, good oral hygiene and regular dental appointments.
Clinical studies have shown reductions in tooth decay by up to 80% in people who consistently use products sweetened with 100% Xylitol.
- Research Articles: Xylitol Dental Health
Gum chewing is an individual choice. If you chew gum, I strongly recommend a sugarless gum. It is a good idea to brush your teeth, or at least rinse your mouth with water after chewing gum. If you are susceptible to decay, gum containing Xylitol may have some benefit for you. If you experience muscle fatigue, jaw joint pain, or headaches from chewing gum, perhaps infrequent chewing or excluding gum altogether may be the best solution.