Chewing gum was once a sweet treat akin to candy, but modern science and technology have turned this sticky substance into much more over the past few decades. With the help of sugar-free sweeteners like xylitol and sorbitol, gum is now enjoyed more often, and it has even taken on some important roles in the oral health department. Many parents are apprehensive about allowing their children to chew gum regularly, but more and more we are learning that it can actually have overall positive effects, permitting that their child is old enough to chew responsibly. Breaking down the claims of gum chewing’s benefits makes it clear that it can safely become a post-meal practice or any time the mouth needs freshening.
Cavity Fighting Power
The idea that chewing sugar-free gum can inhibit cavities from forming isn’t just a marketing gimmick. In fact, the ADA has reported studies that show empirical evidence that only 20 minutes of gum chewing after a meal can help prevent tooth decay. The way gum does this is through various methods of creating an unfavorable environment for plaque to grow. Chewing sugar-free gum helps boost saliva flow in the mouth due to its intense flavor and through the act of chewing, triggering a saliva-release response. Saliva helps neutralize acidity in the mouth, which is crucial in preventing cavities, and it also helps rinse particles and bacteria from the surface of the tooth, along with the sticky nature of chewing gum, which can help with that job as well.
Chewing sugar-free gum also helps to strengthen the enamel as a way to ward off cavities. The boost in saliva production adds more calcium and phosphate into the mouth’s environment, strengthening enamel, which is often weakened after eating or drinking. While saliva production can be stimulated by chewing any kind of gum, the types that are not sugar-free defeat the purpose because they are actively adding and spreading sugar particles along the gum line and onto the teeth.
Understanding Sugar Alcohols
The media is always telling us one thing is healthy, and within the next two weeks, we hear that they have discovered the opposite is true. The same rule applies to sugar alcohols, which have gotten both good and bad press over the years. Sweeteners used in sugar-free chewing gum like xylitol and sorbitol are generally harmless and contain about half the calories of real sugar. They also naturally occur in some fruits and vegetables, while some are human-made and added to processed foods. The use of the word “alcohol” doesn’t mean they are an alcoholic substance, either. Because the small intestine has a difficult time absorbing sugar alcohols, some people may have reactions to certain kinds and experience gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Usually, chewing gum with mannitol or sorbitol will include a warning label on the packaging for those who may be prone to their laxative effects.
Should My Kids Chew Gum?
With more and more families opting for “natural” foods, the question about whether or not they should give their child sugar-free chewing gum is commonly debated. Are the benefits of gum chewing great enough to overlook any potential risks that are associated with sugar-free ingredients and preservatives? In short—yes, the benefits of gum-chewing outweigh the possible concerns, especially if children are chewing gum in moderation. Pending that a child doesn’t have Phenylketonuria (PKU), or the inability to break down phenylalanine (a common ingredient in sugar-free foods), there should be a minimal concern.
Parents should also use discretion in giving their children chewing gum due to the possibility of a choking hazard. However, most parents will know when it’s time to trust their children with gum chewing and rely on the mutual understanding that gum is only for chewing, not swallowing. For those who are curious, the myth once told in our early childhoods about gum staying inside the stomach for seven years if swallowed, well, it’s safe to say that it’s not true! Still, swallowing gum, especially large quantities within a short period of time, should be avoided at all costs to prevent digestive blockage.
Other Benefits of Sugar-Free Gum
On top of fighting cavities, chewing sugar-free gum can also help strengthen tooth enamel. Much like fluoride toothpaste, sugarless gum has a similar effect. It can help banish acids from food and drink from the mouth, preventing enamel erosion, which, once it’s damaged, does not regrow. Gum can also help reduce tooth sensitivity in the same fashion due to increased saliva flow. Those who take medications that cause dry mouth or simply do not produce an adequate amount of saliva may benefit significantly from chewing sugar-free gum on a regular basis, and their teeth will thank them for it.
Things to Keep in Mind
Not all gum is created equal. With the popularity of chewing gum and new products coming out regularly, it’s vital to know which sugarless gum is right for the job. Because sugar-free gum has almost become the “norm,” some people may not realize that the gum they blindly snatched from the checkout stand counter is actually full of sugar! To be sure that the correct kind of gum is being consumed, buyers are urged to look for an ADA seal of approval that the brand and product has passed safety standards as a sugarless product that can be beneficial to oral health.
Combined with a healthy diet and optimal oral hygiene, chewing sugarless gum is something that anyone can enjoy without feeling they are damaging their teeth. Of course, those who may suffer from TMD joint issues, temporary dental appliances, fillings, or crowns should also abstain until their procedures are finished. While chewing sugar-free gum will never, and should never, replace flossing and brushing thoroughly throughout the day, it can still help improve the mouth’s cavity-fighting ability by helping increase saliva flow, along with additional benefits of sugar-alcohols that neutralize acidic environments caused by food and drink. Parents and children alike can safely enjoy the casual stick of gum together to freshen their breath, but also keep cavities and decay at bay.