Americans chew a lot of gum. In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average American chews 1.8 pounds of gum every year. You may think this is bad news, that we’re chewing way too much. But the truth is, chewing gum has its benefits!
You already know that your toothbrush, toothpaste and floss are important tools to keeping your teeth and gums healthy. But interestingly enough, they aren’t the most important. That role goes to your saliva. Saliva is the first line of defense against pesky plaque and bacteria. It helps to rinse away that bacteria and neutralize the acids they give off. Basically, if you’re low on saliva, you’re in trouble.
Gum & Saliva Production
Luckily, saliva levels can be boosted through chewing. Research shows that chewing sugar-free gum after a meal for 20 minutes can help fend off decay. The act of chewing causes saliva production to increase, allowing it to do its job of washing away food particles and delivering enamel-strengthening nutrients to your teeth.
Because saliva also helps to neutralize acids from your food, it also helps to prevent heartburn as it travels down your esophagus.
Always Choose Sugar-Free
With all the benefits of chewing gum, they can easily get cancelled out if the gum you’re using has sugar in it. Remember, bacteria love sugar and adding more to your mouth, especially for a prolonged period of time, gives them food to feed on.
If you’re worried about sugar-free gum not tasting good enough, don’t fret. Many brands use alternative sweeteners like aspartame, xylitol, sorbitol and mannitol that don’t get broken down by your saliva. This makes them effective sweeteners that are also enamel-safe.
Do You Still Need to Brush & Floss?
The short answer is, yes! The long answer is, chewing gum is not a brushing and flossing replacement. Each tool has its place, and brushing and flossing are necessary to physically scrub the bacteria and debris away. Saliva can’t completely do that, and you don’t want any leftovers to get stuck between your teeth in places saliva can’t get to.
Chewing Gum Safely
Now that you know gum is great at increasing saliva flow and preventing cavities, you may be ready to go out and buy your favorite sugar-free variety. Before you do, keep these things in mind:
- Some artificial sweeteners in gum, like xylitol, are toxic to dogs. Be sure to keep your gum safe in a place where your canine companions can’t get to it.
- Chewing gum and braces don’t mix. The gum can get caught in the wires and cause them to bend and loosen.
- The old myth that it takes 7 years to digest swallowed gum is really just that—a myth. However, in rare cases, swallowing too much gum in a short amount of time can cause intestinal blockage. Children should be supervised when chewing gum until they understand the risks of swallowing it.
Still have questions about the benefits of chewing gum? Ask your dentist at your next checkup. They may be able to recommend you some of their favorite sugar-free options!