Many adults, and even children who are old enough, maintain a daily habit of chewing gum directly after or between meals to maintain fresh smelling breath, but is this gum really beneficial to dental health, or is it actually detrimental? While of course sugared varieties of gum are to be avoided, many arguments have been made for the benefits of sugar-free chewing gum. Here is an overview of the pros and cons of sugar-free chewing gum when it comes to dental health.
Increased saliva production
Saliva is highly important for diluting acids in the mouth that contribute to tooth decay. These acids form when naturally occurring bacteria come into contact with sugar, which of course happens when you consume sugary foods. Once these foods have entered the mouth, saliva is produced in your salivary glands and works to dilute these acids, therefore reducing the acids’ harmful effects. Chewing gum increases saliva production even more, so when you chew a sugar-free gum after a meal, you are helping your mouth to naturally clear away the acids that were produced as a result of the food you just ate.
Clearing leftover debris
Chewing gum also has the added benefit of helping clear leftover debris from between the teeth and from chewing surfaces on the back molars. This helps to reduce acid production and can also eliminate potential gum irritation.
Added dental benefits
Some gums contain ingredients that offer added dental benefits for your teeth. The sugar substitute Xylitol that is so often used in sugar-free gums can actually reduce decay-causing bacteria, and milk-based proteins in gums can actually help your teeth to remineralize, reducing the likelihood of tooth decay. These added benefits make chewing gum a good substitute when a toothbrush and toothpaste simply aren’t around. That said, chewing gum is, of course, no substitute for brushing and flossing thoroughly twice a day.
Potential jaw problems
The one major downside to chewing sugar-free gum is that it is not well suited for those who are predisposed to jaw pain or compromised movement of the jaw joint and surrounding muscles. If you favor one side of your mouth over the other when chewing, chewing gum could possibly even lead to muscle imbalance and problems with the temporomandibular joint.
It’s worth the extra reminder here that chewing gum can only carry dental benefits when it is of the sugar-free variety. Gums containing sugar become detrimental to dental health because they simply add to decay-causing acid production in the mouth.