If you or your child loves to chew gum, you’ve probably wondered how your habit affects your oral health. At times it can feel like you’re limited on what you can enjoy guilt-free when it comes to keeping your mouth healthy – swapping soda for water or choosing fruit over candy – and you may have lumped your favorite bubble gum in with them.
You may have also heard that chewing gum can be bad for your teeth – whether from your parents, peers or even your dentist – the truth is that there is nothing harmful about it – and it may even be beneficial. But whether or not your chewing gum habit is a bane or benefit comes down to the ingredients in your gum of choice – namely, sugar.
In fact, it’s widely accepted in the dental community that sugar-free gum is not only harmless but can also be beneficial. Here’s what you need to know about the benefits of sugar-free gum.
Sugar-free gum has a positive impact on your oral health in several ways. One of the most important things sugar-free gum does for your mouth increases the production of saliva, which has several positive effects.
Not only does this increased saliva production reduce the unpleasant symptoms of dry mouth, but it also helps neutralize acids in your mouth, possibly minimizing acid reflux. Saliva production also remineralizes enamel, helping to keep your teeth strong and healthy.
Finally, saliva helps wash away food particles in the mouth, keeping the teeth clean and reducing your chances of developing cavities and gum disease.
Although chewing sugar-free gum is beneficial for the reasons listed above, gum that contains sugar negates those benefits because it introduces more sugar into your mouth. It’s essential to limit sugar consumption for optimal oral health, even in the form of gum, because the bacteria in your mouth feed on sugar and produce acids that lead to decay.
When you chew sugary gum, the sugar dissolves in your saliva, and the bacteria in plaque absorb it. When a bacterial cell absorbs sugar, it receives the energy it needs to reproduce. If you don’t remove the bacteria by brushing your teeth, it will continue to multiply, resulting in tooth decay and gum disease.
On the other hand, chewing gum that contains xylitol instead of sugar has the opposite effect. Xylitol is a naturally-occurring sweetener found in vegetables and fruits. It contains little more than half the calories of sugar and is safe even for diabetics to consume. Like sugar, xylitol is easily absorbed by bacteria. However, once it is absorbed, the bacteria will expel it. Because the bacteria uses its energy expelling the xylitol instead of reproducing, it is less able to stick to the teeth. Eventually, it dies.
Sugar-free gums bearing the American Dental Association (ADA) seal of approval include those that contain xylitol, aspartame, sorbitol, and mannitol – all sweeteners that do not cause cavities. There are many gums on the market bearing the ADA seal that meet their criteria for effectiveness and safety. These products include Dentyne Ice Sugarless, Trident Sugarless, Wrigley’s 5 Sugar-Free, Wrigley’s Extra Sugar-Free, Wrigley’s Orbit Sugar-Free, and Wrigley’s Orbit for Kids Sugar-Free. The ADA and dentists alike recommend chewing sugar-free gum for about 20 minutes after you eat or drink.
It’s important to note that, while sugar-free gum is beneficial, it cannot replace proper oral hygiene practices such as brushing, flossing, and scheduling a dental visit twice a year for professional teeth cleanings. The benefits of sugar-free gum are significant, but it may not be a good idea to indulge excessively because this may cause or exacerbate TMJ.
Whether or not you add sugar-free gum to your daily routine, taking care of your oral health is vital to your quality of life, self-confidence, and overall health. Be sure to schedule a dental visit if it’s been more than six months since your last one. Your dentist can provide the professional teeth cleanings you need as well as x-rays and examinations to ensure that your smile is as healthy and beautiful as possible.