Watch any gum ad, and you’ll hear about the benefits of chewing gum after every meal: clean teeth, fresh breath, a mouth full of pearly whites.
What these ads don’t tell you, though, is that the quality of those benefits depends on the ingredients in your chewing gum — especially when it comes to sugar.
Should you chew gum or is it bad for your teeth?
Regular Chewing Gum vs. Sugar-Free Chewing Gum
The answer to the question really depends on what type of gum you’re talking about.
For gum with sugar, it’s more cut-and-dry. Plaque bacteria feed off of sugar, so more sugar means more bad bacteria in the mouth. Even worse, some of the sugar changes to a glue-like texture, making it harder for the saliva to wash away the sugar and plaque. This can lead to tooth decay, cavities and other dental issues.
So the verdict is, no, chewing gum with sugar is not good for your teeth.
But when it comes to sugar-free gum, the answer varies. It really depends on what’s in the gum.
Tip: If you’re shopping for sugar-free gum, look for the stamp of approval from the American Dental Association to confirm that it actually is sugar-free.
Sugar-free gum is sweetened other ways, with ingredients like xylitol, aspartame and sorbitol.
What it is: Xylitol is a sugar substitute in the form of sugar alcohol. It’s a naturally occurring sweetener found in plant material, including fruits and vegetables.
How it affects your teeth: Xylitol has actually been found to prevent tooth decay, because the mouth cannot turn it into acids that cause tooth decay. The evidence is unclear, but one thing is certain: Chewing gum sweetened with xylitol is better for your teeth than gum containing sugar.
Xylitol is also believed to help alleviate dry mouth.
The US Food and Drug Administration and the European Union have both officially recognized the benefits of xylitol on oral health.
What is is: One of the most common artificial sweeteners, aspartame is actually sweeter than sugar itself. It’s desirable as it is a low-calorie alternative to sugar.
How it affects your teeth: Like xylitol, aspartame does not become acids that threaten oral health. Aspartame is not beneficial to oral health, but it hasn’t been found to be harmful either.
What it is: Sorbitol is another naturally occurring sugar alcohol. It is more commonly used than xylitol.
How it affects your teeth: Sorbitol has similar effects to aspartame. It is neither harmful nor helpful.
CPP-ACP Makes Teeth Stronger
Casein phosphopeptide-amorphous calcium phosphate complex (CPP-ACP) — also known as Recaldent — is an ingredient that has been added to chewing gum in an attempt to improve oral health of those chewing it.
It worked. In the clinical trial, adding CPP-ACP to the gum resulted in less dental decay than regular sugar-free gum. Those chewing it also had stronger tooth enamel.
When paired with xylitol, chewing gum with CPP-ACP can also reduce the amount of cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth.
Increase Salivary Flow
Sugar-free or sugar-laden and regardless of the flavor, chewing gum can increase salivary flow. This is a benefit because a low salivary flow can lead to xerostomia, another name for dry mouth.
Typically, it takes saliva an hour to replace lost minerals from enamel after eating. Chewing gum helps the saliva to do that more quickly. The increase in salivary flow can also help clear mouth debris, including food particles.
Does Chewing Gum Cause TMJ?
Temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ) is a condition there is pain or lack of mobility in the jaw chewing muscles and other nearby muscles. It has been believed that chewing gum may lead to the development of this condition.
While those who suffer from TMJ are encouraged to avoid chewing gum, but there hasn’t been evidence to support the claim that chewing gum is a causation for the condition.
Does Chewing Gum Release Mercury from Fillings?
Many believe if someone with dental amalgam fillings chews gum, mercury is released into the mouth. There is slightly more truth to this myth, but not enough to make you abstain from chewing gum forever.
Studies have found that the amount of mercury released is insignificant and does not affect health.
In the end, sugar-free gum containing xylitol and CPP-ACP is your best bet for oral health. But chewing gum shouldn’t replace your dental hygiene routine. Practice good oral health and schedule routine cleanings — and chew a stick of gum in between.