Do you chew a lot of gum? If so, you’re like most Americans who consumed on average 1.8 pounds of it per person in 2016! And even though many people might consider this to be an annoying and probably unhealthy habit, chewing gum actually has some surprising dental benefits. As long as you do it properly, of course!
Now don’t get too excited and think you can throw out your toothbrush and skip 6-month cleanings in favor of gum—that’s far from what we’re suggesting. However, chewing gum has a positive effect on one of the most important things holding tooth decay at bay: your saliva. Saliva controls bacteria, rinses your mouth and neutralizes harmful acids. Without it, you’re looking at some serious oral health issues.
Chewing Boosts Saliva Production
According to recent research, a great way to increase your saliva flow after a meal is to chew gum for about 20 minutes once you’re done eating. This will help rinse away the bacteria and food particles present in your meal while transporting the nutrients responsible for maintaining your enamel where they need to go.
Chewing gum will also help neutralize any acids your food may have left on your teeth. This is great for those prone to heartburn and indigestion, as it lowers the risk significantly.
Sugar-Free Gum is a Must
When picking gum for oral health benefits, it defeats the purpose to choose one with sugar in it. Bacteria that cause tooth decay love sugar, and feeding them more will only make them more aggressive and damaging to your enamel. For this reason, always opt for sugar-free varieties.
And don’t worry, just because a gum is labeled “sugar-free” doesn’t mean it is unsweetened. Many alternative varieties use sweeteners like xylitol, aspartame, mannitol or sorbitol. These do a great job of giving your gum that familiar sweet flavor while not causing cavities while they’re at it.
Not a Brushing and Flossing Replacement
Just because chewing sugar-free gum can aid in your dental hygiene routine, it doesn’t mean you can get rid of the other steps altogether! Brushing twice and flossing once daily are still the best ways to remove lingering plaque and debris from your teeth and gum line.
Use chewing gum as an addition to your oral care routine, not a replacement.
Like everything in life, even good things come with a few negatives. If you’re going to continue chewing sugar-free gum, keep these things in mind:
- Xylitol, a common sugar-free alternative sweetener, may be safe for human consumption, but it is lethal for dogs. Be sure to keep gum containing it out of reach of your pets to keep them safe.
- We all know by now that gum doesn’t actually take 7 years to digest if we swallow it. However, swallowing too much gum can harm your overall health. Swallowing one or two pieces by accident is fine—your digestive system can handle it. However, in very rare cases, ingesting large amounts of gum can cause intestinal blockages. Make sure to supervise children when they chew gum until they’ve learned not to swallow it.
- If you or your child has braces, you will probably want to avoid gum altogether. It can easily get stuck on brackets and bend your wires, causing more trouble than it’s worth.
Next time you see your dentist, ask them more about the benefits of chewing sugar-free gum and be sure to get their favorite brand recommendations!