Chewing gum is an integral part of our culture, and it’s big business. But how good is it for your teeth?
The Cultural Significance of Chewing Gum
Chewing gum has many connotations, some based on stereotypes we’ve seen in the movies and on TV. There’s the notion that chewing gum is ill mannered, that the chewer of gum is perhaps poorly bred and tasteless. Gum chewing is also associated with being a smart aleck. We’ve all seen the caricature of the gum chewing, wise-cracking, fast-talking [fill in the blank] secretary/sidekick/detective/girlfriend.
Can you walk and chew gum at the same time? It’s an old expression that essentially challenges one’s ability to think complex thoughts and manage multiple tasks. World famous architect and designer Frank Lloyd Wright once notably said, “Television is chewing gum for the eyes.” And there are plenty of other quotes of people likening old boyfriends or girlfriends to chewed up gum that has lost its flavor.
Many people may find gum helpful as a means of working off nervous energy. It certainly is a less toxic habit than smoking cigarettes, and for the diet conscious, it won’t be the source of as many calories as say, potato crisps or cookies. And according to the commercials, it can bring you fresh breath. But what is the impact of gum on your teeth?
Chewing Gum and Your Teeth
In order to determine whether chewing gum is helpful or harmful to your teeth, we have to specify the type of gum under consideration. There are a number of different kinds of chewing gum. There is bubble gum, typically sweetened with some form of sugar. This is definitely not recommended, as sugar is the enemy of teeth. In fact, any gum (bubble producing or not) that gets its flavor from sugar is not a good idea. The bacteria that eat away at teeth to produce cavities thrive on sugar. So chewing this type of gum is virtually feeding them and helping them grow. Not to mention that many of these gums also include artificial colours and preservatives that are probably not good for you either.
Clearly jamming sugar repeatedly into your teeth over the course of an hour or more is not a good idea. Neither is the use of aspartame (aka Nutrasweet), an artificial sweetener included in some gums that has lost its appeal in recent years due to questions about potential negative effects on the body. What has been shown is that gum that is unsweetened or flavoured with the sugar substitute, xylitol, may actually have a positive effect on teeth.
The Benefits of Chewing Xylitol Flavored Gum
Chewing gum stimulates the salivary glands, and this can be very helpful for your teeth. Acids that break down the enamel of your teeth thrive in a dry environment, and bringing adequate quantities of water to the mouth is important to combat their effects. Increasing the flow of saliva in the mouth is another way to support this process.
Chewing gum can also help to lift small particles of food off the surface of your teeth. Again, we all know that bits of food left on teeth can decay, leading to an increase of cavity-producing bacteria. This decaying food can also create a foul odour that contributes to bad breath. This is one reason that chewing gum is beneficial in creating a pleasant smell in the mouth.
In addition to the health reasons cited above, many gums aimed at freshening the breath utilize various kinds of mint or other sweet smelling flavours. Some gums even use natural ingredients like zinc gluconate to help support the health of the teeth and gums, and can also help freshen your breath. In addition to the more commonly used mints such as peppermint or spearmint, other flavors such as anise, which tastes like licorice, or cardamom, a sweet spice, are sometimes used.
It should be noted in this discussion, many people use nicotine laden gum as an aid to quitting smoking. While this type of gum isn’t recommended for general use outside of individuals who are struggling with nicotine addiction, it certainly is another way that gum can be used positively as a delivery system inside the mouth.
Like anything, moderation is key. Chewing unsweetened or sugarless gum can be helpful in keeping teeth clean and breath fresh. However, chewing too hard or for too long may result in an achy jaw. Individuals with TMJ may be cautioned to limit or avoid gum chewing altogether. Likewise, people with dentures or loose fillings would be advised to steer clear of chewing gum as it may cause complications.
As always, if you have any concerns about chewing gum, just give us a call or ask us at your next regular appointment.