We chew a lot of gum. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average American consumes 1.8 pounds of chewing gum each year. While you may brush off this habit as an unhealthy vice, there are benefits to this sticky stuff.
Your toothbrush, paste, and floss are an enormous component of your oral health. But, believe it or not, these aren’t the primary component that keeps bacteria at bay. Saliva is your first line of defense against plaque. It goes a long way toward rinsing away bacteria and neutralizing acids, so if you don’t have enough saliva, you have a problem.
For more information about the importance of saliva, visit our past blog post.
Chewing Increases Saliva Flow
Research has demonstrated that chewing sugar-free gum for 20 minutes following a meal can cut down on decay. Chewing increases saliva production, and saliva washes away food particles and bacteria that collect in your mouth. It also delivers nutrients to your teeth, helping to keep your enamel strong.
Saliva also helps to neutralize acids and pushes them down your esophagus, so it can also prevent heart burn.
Gum Must be Sugar Free
If you chew gum that contains sugar, chewing it is going to do more harm than good. The bacteria that cause tooth decay love sugar, so when you chew sugary gum, you’re helping those nasty germs to thrive.
Don’t worry, sugar-free gum won’t taste bitter. It is actually sweetened, but with ingredients like aspartame, xylitol, sorbitol, or mannitol. Since your saliva cannot break down these sweeteners, they do not cause decay.
Does Chewing Gum Replace Brushing and Flossing?
Nice try, but brushing twice a day and flossing every day is still crucial to preventing tooth decay and gum disease.
Brushing and flossing physically scrub bacteria off your teeth in a way that increased saliva flow simply cannot.
Be Careful with Gum
Sugar-free gum is great for increasing saliva flow and preventing cavities, but it can cause some negative effects.
Some things to keep in mind:
- Keep your sugar-free gum away from Fido. While Xylitol is safe for humans, it is very toxic to dogs.
- If you wear braces, chewing gum isn’t a good idea. The gum can get caught in your braces and it can also create force on your wires, causing them to bend and loosen.
- Gum doesn’t really take 7 years to digest—that’s a myth. Your body can digest small amounts if accidentally swallowed. But in rare cases, swallowing a large amount of gum in a short period of time can cause intestinal blockage. Supervise children while chewing gum until they are old enough to understand the importance of not swallowing it.
If you have additional questions about the benefits of chewing gum, contact your dentist. They may be able to recommend sugar-free gum that is well-suited for you.