Chewing Gum: Friend or Foe?
Gum has been used by humans for centuries – originally as sap from tree. These days, however, most chewing gums are made from synthetic rubber.
So, is chewing gum good or bad for you? First let’s look at what chewing gum is.
What is Chewing Gum?
We can all describe the textures of gum, but if we were to guess what’s actually in there, most of us wouldn’t have a clue. Of course, all recipes vary but there are some basic ingredients in all brands of gum.
Gum: This natural, non-digestible ingredient is used to give gum its rubbery, chewy quality.
Resin: Added to the gum to help hold it together.
Fillers: Calcium carbonate or talc are used to give the gum some more texture.
Softeners, Sweeteners, and Preservatives: These are standard ingredients in most supermarket food stuffs – they help make the food taste nicer, for longer, and makes it easier to eat.
Flavourings: This is where different recipes differ – different flavourings are used to create all the different flavours of gum.
In general, all of these ingredients are considered to be safe. The most important thing to remember is that they’re designed to be chewed, not swallowed.
Oral Health and Chewing Gum
You’ve probably heard lots of conflicting things about whether chewing gum is good or bad for your oral health. So, what’s the truth?
Actually, chewing sugar-free gum can help protect your teeth from cavities. However, make sure that it is sugar-free gum you’re chewing, as sugar feeds the bad bacteria in your mouth. This bad bacteria damage your teeth, by producing acid which cause cavities, and they
can damage your gums by producing toxins which cause gum inflammation and can eat away at the bone holding your teeth.
So, sugar-free gum is better for your oral hygiene, but studies have shown that there are some gums which are better for your teeth than others. Gums which are sweetened with xylitol are more effective than other sugar-free gum at reducing tooth decay. Xylitol prevents the growth of the bacteria which causes decay and bad breath.
In fact, xylitol is so good at getting rid of the bacteria that one study showed that it reduced it by 75%. On top of this, chewing gum helps your mouth produce more saliva. Saliva can help wash away harmful sugars and bits of leftover foods – all of which can cause the bad bacteria to grow.
If you chew gum after a meal, it will speed up the production of saliva, helping to wash away the debris of what you’ve eaten. But remember, make sure it’s sugar-free or it could do more harm than good.
Side Effects of Chewing Gum
Of course, as with anything, there are some side effects to chewing gum. Sugar-free gums contain a sugar alcohol to sweeten it, instead of normal sugar. Ingesting too much of this in large quantities can act as a laxative and cause you digestive distress. If you chew gum, make sure you are keeping it to a minimum and not going through several packs a day.
In addition, beware of some sweeteners which may not be great for your health.
We know that gum sweetened with sugar feeds the bad bacteria in your mouth, but did you know it can also cause other health problems like obesity, insulin resistance, and even diabetes. We might not think a small piece of gum can do all of this, but if you’re chewing it fairly regularly it can all build up.
Also, note that the main benefits of chewing gum are in the first 10-15 minutes after eating food, as this period is when you need the pH of your mouth to raise from being acidic to becoming neutral. After 15 minutes, the gum isn’t helping any further.
Gum can also be linked with jaw problems – temporomandibular disorder which can cause pain when you chew. It has also been linked to headaches and migraines. If you’re prone to these, chewing gum regularly could actually make these problems worse. So, that’s why I advise that you only keep chewing gum to a minimum: 10 minutes after a meal.
Some advocate further benefits to chewing gum like curbing your cravings, burning calories, reduce heartburn, eliminate nausea, lessen depression and even improve memory! There are studies to support these claims, but I suppose it depends on other factors, like the flavourings and how much you are chewing for.
Chewing gum can be good for you, provided you’re chewing sugar-free. But it does come with some risks – as too much of anything can. As long as you are keeping chewing to a minimum and making sure it’s sugar -free, it can help keep your pearly whites, well, pearly white!