Gum Chewing, Good or Bad?

By Catherine M. Fascilla, D.D.S.

A patient recently asked if chewing gum was good for you as she had seen an advertisement stating that it was. There are claims that sugarless gum promotes saliva flow that helps remove food debris from your teeth and buffers the acids in your mouth aiding in cavity reduction. Sugar-free gum sweetened with xylitol has the added benefit of inhibiting the growth of Streptococcus mutans, one of the bacteria that causes tooth decay. Because of the excessive wear and tear on your teeth, facial muscles and joints, I personally am not a fan of gum chewing. But on occasion, I have found myself in the mood for a piece of gum.

People chew gum for various reasons. For many, it offers a quick way to freshen breath. Some people say it relieves stress. Recent research has shown that the rhythmic movement involved in gum chewing helps reduce tension and releases nervous energy, promoting feelings of relaxation and contentment.

Some chew gum to ward off hunger. The physical act of chewing helps reduce appetite to eat high-calorie snacks and can burn about 11 calories per hour. While some people can chew gum on an empty stomach, others will develop abdominal pain. The act of chewing triggers our stomachs to fill with acids that are needed to digest our food. The more acid simply sitting in your stomach, the greater the chance of developing stomach ulcers.

Some psychologists say that chewing gum can improve memory and cognitive skills. They found that people who chewed gum during tests achieved better scores than those who had not done so.

Gum chewing improves digestion because it stimulates saliva flow, the secretion of digestive enzymes in the stomach and intestinal motility. It is also said that chewing gum can be useful in preventing acid reflux. The extra flow of saliva and the increased swallowing helps to keep the stomach acid from rising up to the throat.

While there are benefits to chewing gum, there are damaging affects that can occur with long term use. Prolonged chewing can lead to chronic tension in the muscles of the face, particularly in the two temples creating pressure in this area of the head and causing chronic and intermittent headaches and unnecessary wear and destruction of the jaw joints cartilage. Wear and tear of tooth enamel is also a result.

If you look at the ingredients in gum, you may also reconsider. Most of the chewing gum widely available today is made of synthetic chemicals and artificial sweeteners, flavors and dyes. Many of the ingredients (those in the gum base) are a trade secret and have not been disclosed by manufacturers. They are a blend of chemically derived elastomers, resins, plasticizers and fillers. While we are not consuming gum, the ingredients do get absorbed directly into our bloodstream through the mucosa of our mouth and is swallowed with our saliva. Many of the ingredients are known to be toxic in large amounts and others, like xylitol, there just isn’t enough information and research available to know the long term affects of.

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