It’s one of the sacred cows of dental hygiene: after a meal, you can pop a piece of sugar-free gum into your mouth to scrub your teeth of food remnants and beat bad breath.
And it’s no wonder we hop on this train so quickly: chewing gum is an American staple. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that the average American chews almost two pounds of gum each year.
But what’s the science behind the claim? Is it true that gum really cleans your teeth? Is all gum created equal? Are there any side effects of gum that we might not know about?
Here’s what you need to know:
Can Gum be Good for Your Teeth?
You can’t walk out of a grocery store nowadays without passing a rack of shiny, packaged gum that advertises a whole host of dental benefits, ranging from whitening to freshening breath. It sounds too good to be true, but is it?
No. As it turns out, the hype is real. Certain types of gum CAN be good for your teeth. You just have to know where to look. Here are a few things to keep in mind next time you head out gum shopping:
Sugarless Gum Can Help Clean Your Teeth
Sure – there are dozens of gums advertised as cavity-fighting or tooth-boosting. According to the Oral Health Foundation, though, any old sugarless gum will do:
“Chewing any regular sugar-free gum can help prevent cavities by removing food particles from the surfaces of your teeth. Chewing also stimulates the production of saliva, which helps clear away food, strengthen teeth, and reduce the levels of acid in your mouth that cause tooth decay.”
With this in mind, reach for whichever gum is your favorite. Just be sure to stay away from sugar-packed varieties, as they’ll do more harm than good for your teeth.
Gravitate Toward Xylitol
Xylitol is a compound used to replace sugar in foods like chewing gum and peanut butter. In addition to lowering the calorie content of these snacks, Xylitol helps prevent cavities. According to a 2002 study conducted at the Institute of Dentistry in Finland, Xylitol can reduce the level of cavity-causing bacteria contained in the mouth:
“Xylitol is compatible and complementary with all current oral hygiene recommendations. The appealing sensory and functional properties of xylitol facilitate a wide array of applications that promote oral health.”
While bacteria can feed on and digest traditional sugar, using it to create acid and wear away at your teeth, they can’t digest Xylitol, which makes it an excellent additive for gum dedicated to oral hygiene.
Some Gum Protects Enamel
When you thought it couldn’t get any better – some gum goes so far as to protect the enamel on your teeth. Gums with an additive known as casein phosphopeptide-amorphous calcium phosphate (CPP-ACP), also called Recaldent, works to mineralize and strengthen tooth enamel. This, in turn, toughens tooth enamel and decreases the likelihood of dental decay.
5 Ways to Identify Gum That Won’t Help Your Teeth
There are hundreds of kinds of gum out there. So how do you identify the brands that are good for you, and differentiate them from the ones that aren’t? Here are a few fail-proof tips:
1. Look for the ADA Seal – or Absence Thereof
Gum that is tooth-friendly earns the ADA Seal. According to the ADA itself,
“A company earns the ADA Seal by demonstrating that its product meets the requirements for safety and efficacy for sugar-free chewing gum. Studies must also show that the gum is safe for use in the oral cavity. The manufacturer must provide the results of both laboratory studies and clinical studies in humans.”
If you don’t see the ADA Seal on the gum in your hand, put it back and pick another one.
2. Steer Clear of Sugar-Containing Gum
In addition to the fact that the ADA only grants its seal of acceptance to sugar-free gums, gums that contain sugar are terrible for your teeth. Don’t worry, though – sugar-free gums still taste great and provide a touch of sweetness you’re looking for. If you want to keep your teeth healthy, reach for sugar-free varieties only.
If you’re not sure what’s a tooth-friendly choice and what’s not, ask your dentist for some recommendations. They’ll be happy to give you a few tips on what to choose next time you visit the gum aisle.
3. Beware of Intense Flavors
While flavored gums aren’t always chock-full of sugar, it’s an excellent general guideline to abide by. With this in mind, steer clear of intensely flavored gums like cinnamon and fruit varieties. It’s also wise to avoid gums that have any filling or “flavor burst,” as that’s just a cover word for sugar.
4. Chew Moderately
Everything in moderation – especially when it comes to your teeth. Even sugar-free gum isn’t great for your teeth if you have it in your mouth all the time. Instead, stick to chewing a piece after meals or between meals. A piece or two a day will be just fine for your teeth, while more than that can create excess salivation and other inconvenient issues. If you have a tough time breaking your gum habit, consider sipping water instead.
5. Talk to Your Dentist
Have any doubts about the gum you’ve selected? Take them right to your dentist. Your dentist is your first line of defense when it comes to your oral health, and they/ll work closely with you to ensure you’re making good dental health choices and picking the right products to protect your teeth.
Care for Your Teeth – Book Your Cleaning Today!
We’re happy to bust the myth that chewing gum is bad for your teeth. As long as you stay away from sugar-filled varieties and keep your chewing moderate, gum can work wonders to cut down on oral bacteria and discourage dental decay.
Ready to learn more about chewing gum and other popular oral health trends? Overdue for your yearly cleaning? Contact our team to book your first appointment today.
Dr. Felicity is a National Board Certified Dentist and a Longtime resident of Charleston.