Most of us living in America are not strangers to chewing gum. Since the days of “Big League Chew”, the chewy confection has been a staple of our country’s diet. It helps clean our teeth after our morning cup of coffee, it freshens our breath after that extra piece of garlic bread, and it helps us make sure that we don’t completely blow that first kiss with a waft of noxious Halitosis. However, the origins of chewing gum go much farther back in time than the origins as a stand-in for chewing tobacco from America’s favorite pastime. In fact, chewing gum has been utilized by a variety of cultures since ancient times and may actually be one of the world’s oldest treats!
The Classical Greeks of old chewed on a not-so-sweet tree sap called mastiche (the origin of the word “masticate”, or “to chew”) while on the other side of the world, the ancient Mayans enjoyed similarly chewing the tsicle (or chicle as we now know it) sap of the Sapodilla tree. Although spruce-sap based chewing gums were first brought to the United States market in the mid-1800s, Native Americans had already been chewing on the sap of Spruce trees for generations, so the modern idea of chewing gum is clearly nothing new. But as we all know, just because something has been popular or well-established doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s healthy. So is chewing gum good or bad for the teeth? Coral Springs Dental Center has the answers!
The main difference between the chewing gums available on the market today and those of the past, at least in terms of their implications for dental health, is their sugar content. The first patented gum recipe was created in the 1870s while testing chicle for it’s usefulness for applications in the rubber industry. With sugar and flavoring added, it was discovered that chicle was a superior product to the paraffin-based gums of days gone by. While the gum on the shelves of today’s convenience stores usually has a base comprised of synthetic resins, elastomers, and waxes, many of them still contain sugar.
As we all know, bacteria in the mouth feeds on the sugars that we eat, producing acidic compounds in the mouth that can gradually break down protective tooth enamel. As this enamel decays, bacterial infections of the tooth, or cavities, can occur. Untreated, cavities can spread beyond the surface enamel and into the the inner layers of the tooth, causing significant pain and further complications, possibly including oral cancer. Chewing gums that contain sugar are particularly threatening to the health of your teeth because of their sticky nature coupled with the prolonged exposure to sugar that the teeth endure during gum chewing – the more time exposed to acids, the more damage they cause to your teeth. If you already have crowns or other dental hardware in your mouth, they could be affected as well. Limiting your sugar intake is beneficial for your health across the board, but it can especially make a significant difference for the health of your mouth.
Many of us enjoy chewing gum after a morning cup of coffee or as a replacement for using tobacco products, but we also want to keep our mouths healthy as well as clean. Fortunately, there are a number of sugar free gum options commonly available and they are now more popular than ever. In fact, some of these sugar-free gums can actually have beneficial properties for your teeth! Certain studies have shown that after eating, chewing sugar free gum not only encourages the production of saliva that can rinse the acids off of your teeth, but some of the very compounds that are substituted for the sugar have been shown to reduce enamel erosion. Xylitol, an artificial sweetener derived from the fibrous materials of many fruits & vegetables, has been shown in some studies to inhibit the growth of the oral bacteria Streptococcus mutans, a strain of bacteria that has been shown to contribute to tooth decay and oral disease.
Chewing sugar free gum for 20 minutes after eating a meal has been shown to not only help remove bacteria-feeding particles of food from between your teeth, but chewing gums sweetened with Xylitol have also been shown to aid in hastening the teeth’s remineralization process that occurs after eating. Of course, this function does not in any way replace the importance of actually brushing and flossing your teeth regularly, but sugar free chewing gum can be useful for on-the-go dental maintenance. However, despite the benefits for your mouth, it is important to note that sugar alcohols like Xylitol have been linked to gastrointestinal problems and bloating in excessive amounts, so easy does it!
So is chewing gum good or bad for your dental health? The answer is simple – both! As long as you’re sticking (no pun intended) to sugar free varieties and only using it in moderation and not as a substitute for other, more effective methods of dental care, feel free to indulge yourself next time you get a craving at the convenience. For more dental health news and tips, check back with the team at Coral Springs Dental Center in Coral Springs, FL!