Back before sugar-free gum existed, gum was considered a sweet treat, much like other candy, and would have never been considered to be healthy or helpful for oral health, even back then. Eating too much sugar, especially sticky candy, has always been discouraged by dentists as it’s the fastest and most surefire way to get cavities that will need fillings.
Later on, with the development of calorie-free and sugar-free sweeteners like xylitol, sorbitol, and others, the gum market exploded with an abundance of flavors from sweet to sour to minty that people could enjoy without the guilt of getting sugar all over their teeth. This increased America’s gum-chewing more than ten-fold, making a pack of gum a staple in everyone’s pocket, purse, backpack, or center car console.
Since the popularization of casual gum-chewing, especially of sugar-free gum, there have been claims that it can actually help improve oral health while also fighting cavities. Looking into the reasoning behind it, it actually makes sense! Let’s break down the facts on how sugar-free gum can help you avoid trips to the dentist.
Sugar-free gum seems like such an unlikely warrior in the war against cavities and decay, but it’s perfect for the job. Studies have shown that chewing gum after meals and snacks can help remove food particles and neutralize food acids in the mouth that are released by bacteria in plaque that can harm tooth enamel. Once tooth enamel is worn away, it’s impossible to get it back, so protecting it at all costs is an excellent method for preventing future dental issues. So, instead of jumping up from your meal to go brush your teeth, which can harm softened tooth enamel after a meal, pop some gum in your mouth instead and wait about thirty minutes to brush.
The act of chewing gum and the flavor of the sugar-free sweeteners trigger more saliva production in the mouth, which is ideal for rinsing away food particles and acid stuck onto teeth after a meal. In fact, chewing gum can stimulate saliva flow up to ten times more than not chewing gum at all. Especially when eating carbs or starches, saliva is very necessary for neutralizing the acidity in the mouth caused by these foods and helps ward off an acidic environment that can weaken teeth, making them much more susceptible to tooth decay.
Sugar-free sweeteners like xylitol have additional benefits for improving oral health. Some may be surprised to learn that they even have the ability to inhibit the growth of streptococcus mutans, one of the bacteria known to cause cavities. When bacteria are in the presence of xylitol, they lose their ability to latch onto the tooth enamel, making it much more difficult for cavities to form. When sugar-free gum is chewed more frequently over time, the types of bacteria found in the mouth begin to change, and fewer decay-causing bacteria are able to thrive and survive in the mouth.
With so many whitening products on the market, many are taking charge of bleaching their own teeth with strips, toothpaste, and other products that, frankly, may or may not work, and some are even doing significant damage to the enamel. A study showed, however, that chewing gum helped reduce sensitivity from in-office professional whitening, the best option of all. If you are still whitening at home, you would be surprised how much more money you are spending on harmful products that don’t work as well, and could cause more sensitivity for longer. Speak to your dentist about in-office whitening promotions and prices.
Things to keep in mind…
Chewing gum is not a replacement for brushing.
While chewing gum is great, even preferable to brushing immediately after meals, it still isn’t as effective as brushing when it comes to removing harmful bacteria and particles. While the sticky nature of gum can be great for removing food between teeth, it doesn’t replace flossing at least once a day to get rid of plaque and other substances that can be lurking along the gum line.
Look for the ADA seal.
Not all chewing gum is created equal! Some brands may carry sugar-free gum, but not all of their products are sugar-free. Make sure to look for the ADA label on the packaging to ensure this American Dental Association has approved its formula as beneficial for oral health. Those companies with the ADA seal have verified all of their information and ingredients and can be trusted.
Chewing gum isn’t right for everyone.
If you have any kind of dental issues or special appliances, gum is not for you. Those who suffer from TMJ pain should speak with their dentist before increasing their gum-chewing. Patients with particular kinds of braces, trays, or other appliances they wear throughout the day also need to steer clear of gum until they discuss chewing it more often with their orthodontist or dentist.
Chew gum evenly.
Subconsciously, many of us tend to favor one side of our bodies for everything. Right-handed people will use their right hand, right foot, and sometimes even the right side of their mouths to chew. This can also occur specifically just in the mouth if a tooth on one side has an issue, and the person is avoiding using it while chewing. Make sure to chew gum on both sides of molars as equally as to possibly avoid any imbalance in the jaw muscles, but also to ensure that the benefits of gum-chewing are spread to all of the teeth in the oral cavity.
Protect dental work.
If you have a temporary crown or loose filling, avoid chewing gum until your dental work is finished. This also goes for any loose bridges or implants that may feel problematic. It’s essential to contact your dentist at the first signs of trouble with any dental work, and also avoiding contact with any hard or sticky foods is highly advised.