Chewing gum is perceived as a type of candy by most Americans. In recent years its popularity and the increase concern for ingredient awareness have forced many manufactures to change their recipes and opt for gum that is better for the teeth. The question about whether gum is good for your teeth still comes down to a few simple factors.
Sugar and Flavor Content
It’s nearly common knowledge that sugar is the leading cause of many oral cavity problems because it’s the sweeteners in our food that bacteria convert into plaque. That plaque becomes tartar and causes tooth decay, dental sensitivity, and the associated health complications. Also, sugarless gum may still have acidic flavors or additives that still cause tooth erosion, so be mindful of which flavors you choose.
Gum didn’t always have sugar in it. In ancient civilizations such as the Mayans and Greeks, various types of simple tree saps were chewed for their oral benefits. Research now shows that chewing sugarless gum for 20 minutes following meals can help prevent tooth decay. (Source: ADA.org.) This appears to be due to the fact that it increases saliva production, thereby diluting bacteria and strengthening enamel by providing an abundance of calcium and phosphate from the body’s supply. This increase has even been shown even re-mineralize the tooth structure in some cases.
Possible Jaw Damage
In rare cases, excessive gum chewing has been linked to jaw pain or temporomandibular disorder symptoms (TMD/TMJ). It’s been suggested that jaw muscle imbalance in these situations were probably because the sufferer chewed too much on one side. So if you chew gum, be sure to alternate chewing sides and pay attention to your jaw muscles. If you feel pain of any kind, stop chewing gum and see your dentist right away.
Not a Substitute for Brushing and Flossing
Just as mouthwash isn’t a clean all for the mouth, gum is not an alternative to your daily oral care habits. The rigorous acts of brushing and flossing remove plaque and tartar build up; Gum does not. There are benefits to chewing sugarless gum, but you should never swap it out for these important daily cleanings.
How It’s Made Today
As mentioned above, sugar or sweeteners need to be taken into consideration if you’re considering chewing gum more regularly. In addition to sweeteners (including aspartame, xylitol, mannito, or sorbitol), gum also has a combination of synthetic ingredients (elastomers, waxes, or resins), an oil or other softening agent, as well as flavorings and colorings for marketing purposes. These ingredients are melted and mixed together and then placed in machines to smooth, form and shape gum before packaging.
The Short Answer is Yes
Chewing gum can help the health of your mouth if the proper type is selected. The ADA makes it easier by putting their seal on the sugarless brands that uphold their standards. As always, we encourage you to ask your dentist to help you choose the best brand for your teeth or if you think the gum your chewing may be causing dental problems. Your dentist knows your mouth best and will know if you are prone to an issue that chewing gum can aggravate or deter.