Chewing Gum: Yes or No for Healthy Teeth?
Can we really clean a dirty mouth with chewing gum?
In between your regularly-scheduled cleanings and check-ups with Dr. Brunacini and Dr. Karagiorgos, what are some steps you can take to maintain and improve your oral health? We all know that brushing and flossing twice daily are essential. But even if you have a fun toothbrush and fancy-flavored toothpaste and floss, the old brush-and-floss routine can sometimes feel more like a chore than a treat.
Chewing gum—with its kaleidoscope of colors, yummy flavors, fun wrappers, and snappy names (and snappier bubbles), always feels like a treat. But does chewing gum help support other dental hygiene…or hurt it?
What does it mean to chew?
Let’s look at what happens when you pop a piece of gum into your mouth. What is the physiological response to the act of continual chewing? First and foremost, chewing stimulates salivary flow. In fact, chewing increases the average flow of saliva in your mouth by 10 times that of your non-chewing rate. All of this extra saliva needs to be swallowed, which means that as average saliva production increases, the average rate of swallowing increases as well.
Saliva acts as a natural barrier between different kinds of acid and your tooth enamel. Saliva that is stimulated by chewing contains higher concentrations of protein, calcium, and bicarbonate, which makes it a better barrier than unstimulated saliva. This “Super Saliva” is super helpful when you’re eating, because food and beverage all contain acids that start to break down our enamel over time. However, chewing gum stimulates the same saliva type and flow as chewing your favorite meal—meaning that you can activate the power of “Super Saliva” any time of day!
Repeated swallowing clears acid deposits from the esophagus, which some studies have shown to help reduce different kinds of acid reflux. This means that chewing clears acid from the top (getting it out of your mouth) and bottom (keeping it in your stomach)! Who knew?
Sugar vs. Sugar-free
Since our very first Halloween adventure, we’ve all memorized the scary equation that “SUGAR + TEETH = CAVITIES”. Sweet teeth need brushing, flossing…and sugar free gum! Here’s why.
Sugar, or sucrose, is food for the oral bacteria naturally residing in our mouths (for more information, read our August blog post!). When the bacteria metabolize the sucrose, they produce dental biofilms and acids which erode enamel and cause cavities. Even though chewing gum with sugar still increases Super Saliva flow, that benefit is undone by the production of biofilms and acids.
Sugarless gum is still sweetened, but by artificial sweeteners such as xylitol. These types of sweeteners are either metabolized very slowly, or not at all, by our oral bacteria, meaning no biofilms or additional acids. In fact, xylitol is a common ingredient in mouthwashes, toothpastes, and popular mints such as LifeSavers.
To Chew or Not to Chew?
Chomp away on your sugar-free gum! It is beneficial to your oral health to chew sugar-free gum after and in-between meals. Chewing gum significantly increases the flow of powerful, acid-clearing saliva. Additionally, artificial sweeteners cannot be metabolized by oral bacteria. This means that enamel-eroding and cavity-causing acids are minimized, and your beautiful smile is maximized!
If you’re still unsure of which chewing gum is best, just look for the American Dental Association seal of approval. Only dentist-approved sugar-free gums are eligible for the ADA’s seal, so you can choose them with confidence. Just remember that although chewing sugar-free gum is a great way to improve your daily dental hygiene routine, it’s never a substitute for twice-daily brushing and flossing.
Bring a pack of sugar-free, ADA gum to share with Dr. Brunacini and Dr. Karagiorgos at your next dental exam and cleaning! If you have any questions, or need to schedule your next appointment, please call our office at 207.781.5900.
(Post your best and biggest sugar-free chewing gum bubble pictures on our Facebook page!)
*images courtesy of confectionarynews.com