The Stick You Pick Can Either Harm or Help Your Teeth
Chewing gum in various forms has been around since ancient times. The Greeks chewed sap from the mastic tree, called mastiche. On the other side of the world, the ancient Mayans favored the sap of the sapodilla tree (called tsiclte). Native Americans chewed spruce sap—a habit they passed on to European settlers. Currently, the base used for most gum products is a blend of synthetic materials (elastomers, resins and waxes in various proportions). And today, chewing gum is more popular than ever.
The physical act of chewing increases the flow of saliva in your mouth. Increased salivary flow helps neutralize and wash away the acids that are produced when food is broken down by the bacteria in plaque on your teeth. Increased saliva flow also carries with it more calcium and phosphate to help strengthen tooth enamel.
So chewing gum is good for your teeth right? It is if you choose the right gum.
Chewing gum containing sugar actually increases your chances of developing a cavity because sugar is the very substance that plaque feeds on. Of course, chewing sugar-containing gum increases saliva flow, but the sugar is used by plaque bacteria to produce acids. Over time, acid can break down tooth enamel, creating conditions for decay. By chewing this type of gum you are literally bathing your teeth in sugar, giving plaque energy to develop and spread harmful acids in your mouth. While further research needs to be done to determine the effects of chewing sugar-containing gum on tooth decay, it’s safe to say prolonged exposure to sugar on your teeth can be harmful.
However, there is clinical evidence that proves just the opposite for sugar-free gum. Studies have shown that chewing sugarless gum for 20 minutes following meals and snacks can help prevent tooth decay. Both the act of chewing and the flavor of the artificial sweeteners in the gum stimulate ten times the normal rate of saliva flow. In the future, look for chewing gum that delivers a variety of therapeutic agents that could provide additional benefits to those provided by the ability of gum to mechanically stimulate saliva flow. For instance, some gum might contain active agents that could enhance the gum’s ability to remineralize teeth and reduce decay, or enable gum to help reduce plaque and gingivitis.
Xylitol Reduces Decay-Causing Bacteria
Sugar-free gum sweetened with xylitol has the added benefit of inhibiting the growth of Streptococcus mutans, one of the oral bacteria that cause cavities. In the presence of xylitol, the bacteria lose the ability to adhere to the tooth, stunting the cavity-causing process. With xylitol use over a period of time, the types of bacteria in the mouth change and fewer decay-causing bacteria survive on tooth surfaces.
Look for the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal
The ADA Seal is your assurance that the chewing gum has met the ADA criteria for safety and effectiveness. All gums with the ADA Seal are sugarless and sweetened by non-cavity causing sweeteners such as aspartame, xylitol, sorbitol or mannitol. You can trust that claims made on packaging and labeling for ADA-accepted products are true, because companies must verify all of the information to the ADA.
Does Chewing Gum Replace Brushing and Flossing?
Sugarless chewing gum is an adjunct to brushing and flossing, but not a substitute for either. The ADA recommends brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and cleaning plaque from between your teeth once a day with dental floss. For most people, chewing sugar-free gum (especially gum sweetened with xylitol) can be a good, preventive measure in situations when tooth brushing and flossing aren’t practical, but sugar-free or not, chewing gum should never replace good dental hygiene practices.
To Chew or Not to Chew
Although chewing sugar-free gum can be beneficial in most instances, there are some cases in which chewing gum is not recommended. For example, if you are experiencing any type of jaw pain or temporomandibular disorder symptoms (TMD/TMJ), you should refrain from chewing gum. Also, gum can also dislodge fillings and other dental work, especially if it’s from an older, outdated procedure. Talk to your dentist if you have TMD symptoms or dental work in question about what options are available to you.
Sources: MouthHealthy.org, Academy of General Dentistry, American Dental AssociationLeave a reply →