Hi, I'm Kyle Hornby and I'm a Kitchener, Ontario Dentist. I operate a Dental Clinic that's been a staple in Downtown Kitchener since 1977. Every week I tackle 2-3 dental issues and answer commonly asked patient questions to help raise the bar on dental info available to the public. This week, I'd like to discuss whether or not chewing gum is good for your Dental Health.
So, first off it's important to talk about what's in gum. Has it changed over the past 10-20 years?
Well, the answer is "yes". Chewing gum used to contain more sugar and this essentially meant that you were bathing your teeth in carbohydrate for the duration of your chew.
Why was this bad?
Well, the sugar in gum is used as fuel by the harmful bacteria that cause cavities.
Luckily, chewing gums have changed and now most are sugarless or they contain the sugar substitute, Xylitol. Xylitol can have very positive effects in the oral cavity so let's talk about what this sugar substitute actually does.
What is xylitol made of? Well, xylitol is a sugar-poly-alcohol and it is widely used as a sugar-substitute. When you chew Xylitol-containing gums, the Xylitol is released in the mouth causing increased salivation. This is big because increased saliva flow brings more calcium and phosphorus to remineralize your tooth enamel. Highly mineralized enamel is very resistant to tooth decay.
Does Xylitol have other dental health benefits?
Indeed. Xylitol is absorbed by cavity-causing bacteria like S.mutans but it actually disrupts this bacterias metabolism. This leads to a decrease in this harmful bacteria in the mouth. So, Xylitol gums (if chewed regularly) can actually rewire the oral microbiome (that's just the community of bacteria, some good and some bad, that exists in our mouths). In doing so, it can help to prevent cavities and, thus, the need for dental fillings.
So, ultimately, chewing Xylitol gums can help you to fend off tooth decay.
Now, can chewing gum have negative effects?
I briefly touched on how chewing gum can really ramp up your saliva flow, above. But what's so great about having more saliva?
Well, saliva delivers calcium and phosphorus to your teeth to help re-strengthen your enamel. This is called re-mineralization. Saliva also helps to break down food and carry plaque away from your teeth and gums. The more saliva you have, the lower the amount of food and plaque that remains in your mouth, caked on your teeth.
So, overall, the boost in saliva flow that you get from chewing gum provides tremendous benefit to your teeth.
This effect can be a huge help to people who suffer from dry mouth due to taking certain medications, old age, or because of previous radiation treatment that may have damaged saliva glands around the head and neck.
Chewing gum is very sticky. Because of this, it can stick to and remove plaque and food debris from hard to access spots in the mouth. Specifically, gum can adequately clean between teeth and also the highly retentive grooves on top of your back teeth.
These are spots where saliva alone cannot completely dissolve plaque and so the added stickiness of gum can be a real big helper!
We have jaws so that we can exert force to chew food. Like any machinery (inside the body or out), there is a level or frequency of use at which point things can break down. So, when we chew gum, we are adding lots of extra chewing cycles.
For many people, chewing gum daily might not have a negative effect. However, for people who suffer through TMJ dysfunction (TMJD), adding the chewing cycles associated with daily gum use can have negative effects. Many of these people experience some combination of jaw clicking, stiffness and/or pain and chewing gum can make things worse.
We discussed the benefit of chewing gum after meals because it can stick to food and plaque and remove it from in between and around teeth. However, chewing gum after every meal might not be advisable. If you're going to incorporate gum chewing into your weekly routine, start slow and use it infrequently for a period of time. See if you experience any jaw or muscle symptoms.
Also, keep your chewing intervals short (i.e. 3-5 minutes).
By Dr. Kyle Hornby, Kitchener Dentist
Our Dentist Office in Kitchener is conveniently located Downtown. We are a short drive away for families in Waterloo, Breslau & St. Jacobs. Our central location means we truly offer family dentistry near you!
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Accordingly, always seek the advice of your Dentist or other healthcare providers regarding a dental condition or treatment.