Can Chewing Gum Help Teeth Stay Healthy?

Chewing gum is popular with millions of Americans. In fact, research shows that 59 percent of people in the United States chew gum, and studies show that gum has several possible health benefits. Chewing gum can improve motor function and aid relaxation, but many people choose gum because of the candy's ability to improve oral health and breath freshness. Is chewing gum an entirely healthy option? Find out here.

The health benefits of chewing

Chewing is an intrinsic part of good oral health. Chewing food increases the flow of saliva in your mouth. In turn, the increased saliva in your mouth can help neutralize and wash away harmful bacteria and acids that build up in your mouth as you break down your food. If you don't have enough saliva to wash the acidity away, the enamel layer on your teeth can start to break down, which will ultimately result in decay.

The increase in saliva protects the tooth enamel in other ways, too. Saliva contains special components that form a protective layer on the surface of the teeth called pellicle. Your saliva is also rich in calcium and phosphate ions, which help plug tiny holes in the hydroxyapatite crystals that make up the enamel layer on your teeth.

Chewing gum basics

While chewing can improve saliva production, it's important to remember that some foods won't help. For example, you can chew a dry water biscuit, but you won't get the improved salivary flow you're looking for. As such, manufacturers designed chewing gum specifically for this purpose, on the basis that consumers need something they can chew regularly between meals.

Manufacturers use various materials to boost the properties of chewing gum. The gum base helps the product stay chewy and last longer, while artificial sweeteners give the gum the sweeter taste consumers crave. Similarly, softeners, flavorings and colorings can all make the gum more palatable and a more effective antidote to bad breath.

Choosing the right gum

Dentists only recommend chewing gum that doesn't have sugar in it. Bubble gum and other similar products may stimulate saliva, but the sugar in the candy will negate any possible dental health benefits. Gum that isn't free from sugar can actually still erode your tooth enamel.

Nonetheless, several studies show that sugar-free gum can boost saliva and protect your teeth from decay. Many of these sugar-free gums use sweeteners called xylitol or sorbitol, which are compounds that doctors refer to as polyols. While polyols can boost sweetness, they have a third fewer calories than other sweeteners like sucrose, so they're also ideal for somebody on a calorie-controlled diet.

The American Dental Association (ADA) only a awards its Seal to manufacturers that can show scientific evidence that their gum is effective for at least one specific indication. For example, a manufacturer may have evidence that a product can reduce plaque acids. What's more, studies must also show that these products are safe to the supporting gums and oral tissues. The ADA only awards its Seal to certain sugar-free gums, so if you want absolute certainty that a brand of chewing gum is good for your teeth, you should look for the ADA seal.

Research continues to explore the dental health benefits of chewing gum. For example, it's possible that chewing gum could trap and remove harmful bacteria from your mouth. Studies so far have not proven gum's germ-trapping qualities, but research in this area remains underway.

Chewing gum risks

Chewing gum is not without risks, and some of these products can cause other unwanted side effects. For example, some gum ingredients can cause constipation or diarrhea if consumed in large quantities.

Some dental health problems can occur due to excessive chewing, too. Continual chewing can eventually lead to wear and tear on the cartilage in your jaw. This is more likely to become a problem for somebody who already has a problem in this area, such as temporomandibular joint disorder or TMJ. What's more, chewing gum can also release harmful mercury from older tooth fillings.

Chewing gum is generally good for your dental health, as long as you chew sugar-free gum in sensible amounts. Talk to your dentist for more information and advice, or visit websites like