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Chewing Gum: A Friend or Foe?

May 19, 2020

During lock-down and whilst working from home, we may be tempted to snack more often and graze on what we see as ‘delicious’ but unhealthy treats. Gum chewing after a snack can be beneficial for our oral health, but not all gum is the same.

Some chewing gums contain sugar. Sugar is broken down by the bugs in our mouths which then produce acids. These acids dissolve the enamel of our teeth and this process leads to tooth decay. Therefore, chewing gum that contains sugar MUST BE AVOIDED.

While chewing gum containing sugar may actually increase our chances of developing a cavity, there is clinical evidence that shows just the opposite for sugar-free gum. Sugar-free gum does not contain any sugar, the taste is added using sweeteners.

 

But how can a sugar-free gum improve your oral health?

 

Increases saliva flow

Studies have shown that chewing sugar-free gum after meals and snacks can help to wash off and neutralize the acids released by the bacteria in dental plaque, these bacteria are harmful to tooth enamel. Both the act of chewing and the flavour of the artificial sweeteners in the gum stimulate ten times the normal rate of saliva flow. Not only does the increased saliva flow neutralize the acids in your mouth, it also washes away food particles, helping to keep your teeth clean.

Reduces tooth decay-causing bacteria

Sugar-free gum sweetened with xylitol has the added benefit of reducing the growth of bacteria that cause tooth decay.

Protects enamel against acid erosion

Consuming acidic drinks or snacks such as fruit juices, fizzy drinks and citrus fruit, removes some of the minerals contained in enamel. Chewing sugar-free gum for 20 minutes after eating or drinking can increase the flow of saliva which helps to replace the minerals the enamel lost.

Relieves dry mouth symptoms

As chewing gum increases the flow of saliva, sugar free gum can be used to relieve the symptoms associated with dry mouth syndrome otherwise known as ‘xerostomia’. However, it only relieves the symptoms of dry mouth but does not cure the underlying cause.

Masks Bad breath

Most of the chewing gums are minty flavoured which can mask bad breath, also known as halitosis. However, professional help should be sought to identify the primary cause of bad breath. Bad breath can be caused by diet (eating garlic the night before for example) or an underlying mouth condition (e.g gum disease, tooth decay) or a systemic health problem (diabetes or stomach ulcers).

 

Sugar-free gums that are recognised as having potential oral health benefits include Orbit® sugar-free mint gum and Extra sugar-free peppermint and spearmint gums. These chewing gums have been approved by the British Dental Health Foundation (look out for the sign).

 

But it can’t be all good for you, eh?

 

Although, extensive research backs up the oral health benefits of sugar free gums, there are some points that should be considered before chewing gum as part of your daily oral health routine.

Jaw or face muscle pain

Chewing gum for a long time should be avoided as it can put a strain on your jaw muscles. People that suffer with regular jaw or face-muscle pain, or have been diagnosed with TMD, should be mindful that chewing gum can make their pain symptoms worse.

Laxative effect

Sweeteners can have a laxative effect especially if 10 or more gums are consumed in a day. As with everything, moderation is the key!

Choking hazard

Chewing gum has been identified as a choking hazard for preschool children. Try to keep any gum out of reach of young children.

Environment

Chewing gum can be very sticky and very difficult to clean and remove from hard surfaces. Interestingly, chewing gum is the world’s second most common litter after cigarette ends. We should all do the right thing and dispose of gum responsibly in a bin or recycle them by disposing them in a dedicated ‘gumdrop bin’.

 

TOP TIP:

Chew a sugar free gum for 20 minutes after snacking. Do not consider chewing gum as a substitute for toothbrushing. Brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste and clean in between your teeth with either floss or interdental brushes once a day.

 

This Blog has been written by our associate dentist Anastasios Plessas.

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Dear Patients

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