Find out how chewing gum affects your dental health and what type is safe to use
If you’ve ever stepped in it or — heaven forbid — gotten it stuck in your hair, you know how troublesome gum can be.
But does it cause as many issues inside your mouth as it does outside?
Today, we’ll be answering that question with the thoroughness and attention to detail that we always have here at Dental Express, empowering you to make an informed decision to protect and even improve your dental health.
As you’ll discover, when you know what to look for and how to use it, gum can prevent tooth decay and cavities and provide several other benefits that might surprise you!
Gum Has Been Around for Millennia
Dating back to the ancient Greeks, people have been chewing “gum” for thousands of years.
By carefully cutting into the bark of various trees, our ancestors would cook and dry the sap to create an ancient form of gum.
The Greeks used to extract sap from the mastic tree and called the sticky byproduct “mastiche.”
The ancient Mayans were fond of the sap from the sapodilla tree. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, this chewy goo “quenched thirst and staved off hunger” and even helped fight bad breath.
More recently, the Native Americans from the New England area would gather sap from the spruce tree to create gum. Following their example, European settlers began to make chewing gum themselves and eventually commercialized it.
Depending on who you talk to, gum can have a bit of a bad reputation. But if people have been using it for so long, it can’t be all bad, right?
Let’s find out.
Gum, as we know it today, is made up of sweeteners, artificial flavors, waxes, resins, and other ingredients.
And while several benefits arise from the simple act of chewing (which we’ll cover in a moment), opting for sugary gum can offset these benefits and lead to dental health issues.
Most sugar-containing gums use sucrose as the sweetening ingredient, which has been shown to stimulate plaque growth and increase the risk of cavities.
By chewing these types of gum, you’re essentially treating your teeth like a college football coach after a big win: drenching them with sugar.
When your oral bacteria break this sugar down, it creates biofilm and acid that erode your enamel and cause tooth decay.
Not to mention, excess sugar intake is linked to unwanted weight gain and various health conditions like diabetes and obesity.
So, sugar-sweetened gum isn’t just bad for your teeth. It’s also bad for your overall health.
Sugarless gums contain artificial sweeteners like aspartame, stevia, xylitol, erythritol, and more.
These substances take the place of real sugar and open the door to a list of dental health and cognitive benefits–without the risk of cavities.
For example, just the simple act of chewing can increase the amount of saliva in your mouth by up to twelve times the normal amount.
As we covered in a previous blog about dental health and genetics, more saliva means more protection against enamel demineralization, as it helps to balance out your mouth’s pH levels.
What’s more, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), our normal saliva doesn’t provide as much protection as the excess saliva our body produces when stimulated by chewing:
“Stimulated saliva has higher concentrations of total protein, sodium, total calcium, chloride and bicarbonate and therefore has a higher buffering capacity.”
The higher level of proteins in your saliva helps remove carbohydrates that, when broken down, can lead to plaque buildup and gum disease.
This increase in potent saliva would also explain the dry mouth-curing effects that some people experience from chewing gum.
How Chewing Gum Can Prevent Cavities
It may be hard to believe, but chewing sugar-free gum can actually protect your teeth from tooth decay.
One study reported that people who chewed sugar-free gum for twenty minutes after their meals had far fewer cavities than people who didn’t. These impressive results can likely be explained by the increased production of pH-balancing saliva we discussed above.
Also, there’s a certain artificial sweetener–a secret ingredient, if you will–that works wonders for your dental health in ways that others can’t.
Sugar-free gums sweetened with xylitol are shown to reduce the development of cavity-causing oral bacteria significantly.
To be more specific, 100% xylitol-sweetened gum is what you’re looking for if you want to protect your teeth while you chew.
NOTE: Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that can cause digestive issues in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). If you have IBS, look for sugar-free gum that contains stevia.
The benefits of chewing gum don’t stop there…
Chewing Gum May Improve Memory and Cognitive Performance
Alertness, productivity, cognition.
The scientific community isn’t exactly sure why, but chewing gum has been shown to increase these factors in various studies.
While more research is needed, one study showed that chewing gum increased test subjects’ performance on short-term memory tests by 24% and long-term memory tests by up to 36%.
Another study revealed that chewing gum throughout the day enhanced alertness, productivity, and reduced cognitive issues.
These performance-boosting improvements haven’t been irrefutably proven by scientific research, but if you like to chew gum and can prevent cavities in the process, why not take the chance?
Can You Chew Gum Too Much?
If you’re someone who suffers from migraines or tension headaches, research suggests limiting how often you chew gum.
Although the evidence is limited, there’s reason to associate frequent chewing with headache “attacks” and migraines.
Also, a recent study reported that of 200 subjects–half with a gum-chewing habit and half without–those who chewed regularly experienced jaw clicking and pain much more frequently than the control group.
These results suggest that excessive chewing can lead to temporomandibular disorders (TMD), which can cause pain, discomfort, and clicking or locking of the jaw.
So, What’s the Verdict?
With all these factors in mind, here’s what we recommend:
- Stick to sugar-free gum – Sugarless gum is the way to go if you want to prevent tooth decay and cavities. Look for 100% xylitol-sweetened gum for extra cavity-fighting power.
- Chew in moderation – Chewing gum can improve your dental health, but just like any good thing, too much of it can cause problems. If you find yourself chewing all day, every day, dial it back and set limits for yourself. Try chewing only while at work or after meals.
- Chew after meals to help prevent tooth decay – Straight from the ADA, this powerful tip has the potential to save you trouble, pain, and money at the dentist’s office.
- Look for the ADA seal of acceptance – The ADA labels products that meet its safety and effectiveness standards. When shopping, look for sugar-free gum with their stamp of approval.
- Ask your San Diego dentist – If you’re still unsure of what to buy, ask your local dentist in San Diego for advice.
If you use the right type of gum and chew wisely, this popular habit can benefit your dental health.
Gum chewers everywhere rejoice!
Your Premiere San Diego Dentist
At Dental Express, we’re always here to give you an edge on your dental care habits. No matter how small, we want you to have all the tips and tools to keep your smile as healthy as possible.
Whether you want the top-quality, family-focused care we’re famous for, or you just want to call for some general dental advice, we’re happy to help.
We have six locations in the greater San Diego area, and we always accept walk-ins, same-day appointments and offer emergency dental care services. Contact us any time during office hours for more information or come in and see us. We’d love to service your smile!