No this isn’t a blog post about Thomas the Tank Engine, we are talking chewing gum! You may have heard through the grapevine (or from your dental team) that chewing sugar free gum throughout the day can be beneficial to your oral health. Well, they are absolutely correct!
Over the last 50 years our eating and drinking habits have changed considerably, with an increase in ‘grazing’ on food throughout the day, rather than eating solely at mealtimes. Grazing, especially on sugary or acidic food and drinks, increases the risk of tooth decay and acid erosion.
Chewing sugar-free gum increases saliva flow, which helps buffer and neutralise acids and sugars in the mouth. Saliva has an important antimicrobial and cleaning role in oral health, helping to prevent infections, whilst repairing and lubricating soft tissues. It is also important for taste, eating and swallowing food and helps maintain fresh breath.
Poor saliva flow can increase your risk of tooth decay, gum inflammation, acid erosion and trauma to the soft tissues, as well as affecting speech, swallow, taste, fresh breath and overall quality of life.
Chewing sugar-free gum for 20 minutes after meals and snacks helps to stimulate saliva flow, therefore helping to neutralise plaque acids in the mouth, rinse food particles away and remineralise (harden) tooth surfaces. As beneficial as it is, chewing gum should NOT be used as an alternative to brushing and flossing teeth regularly.
Legally, chewing gum can be labelled as ‘sugar-free’ if it contains less than 0.5g of sugar per serving. In place of sugar, gum can be sweetened with high intensity sweeteners or sugar alcohols, which are different to sugar as they are non-cariogenic (do not cause tooth decay). These sweeteners cannot be broken down by plaque bacteria in the mouth to form the acids which cause tooth decay and they also have a lower number of calories than sugar.
A natural sweetener which is increasingly found in sugar-free chewing gym is Xylitol, commonly sourced from the birch tree. Xylitol looks and tastes like sugar but has 40% fewer calories, doesn’t raise blood sugar levels and has been found to help PREVENT tooth decay and acid erosion. It is found in small amounts in many fruits and vegetables, and our bodies produce small quantities of it as part of normal metabolism.
Nothing is ever straightforward! There is some evidence that too much chewing can increase wear and tear on the cartilage in the jaw and aggravate any pre existing jaw problems. If you have a jaw joint problems (TMJ/TMD) speak to your dental team or oral health coach to check if chewing gum regularly is recommended.
Click here to view the Growing Smiles range of Xylitol candies and chewing gum. Always dispose of gum responsibly after use.
As you can see, the benefits of increasing saliva flow by chewing sugar-free gum following meals and snacks are clear. Just ensure the chewing gum is sugar-free and for extra tooth protection, find one which also contains Xylitol. Chewing gum is not an alternative to cleaning between and brushing teeth daily with fluoride toothpaste but an addition to promote oral health.