If you’re like most Americans, you chew a lot of gum. The average American consumes almost two pounds of it annually, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. While many consider this to be an unhealthy habit, it offers surprising benefits.
In your dental health arsenal, your toothbrush and floss are staples, but believe it or not, they aren’t number one. Healthy saliva production is actually the key to defending your teeth against plaque. It works to rinse away food particles and bacteria, and neutralizes acids.
To learn more about the important role saliva plays in your oral health, check out our recent post.
Chewing Increases Saliva Flow
According to researchers, when incorporated with other healthy oral hygiene habits, chewing sugar-free gum for 20 minutes after a meal has decay-fighting benefits. As you chew, you increase saliva production, which helps to rinse away food particles and transfers nutrients your enamel needs to stay strong.
Since saliva helps to utilize acid, chewing sugar-free gum can also be an effective prevention for heartburn.
Gum Must be Sugar Free
Before you add gum into your dental health routine, make sure you are using a product that is sugar free. Sugary gum will only feed the bacteria in your mouth, giving them more fuel to cause decay.
While many types of gum are called sugar-free on the package, they are in fact sweetened. Ingredients like aspartame, xylitol, sorbitol, and mannitol taste sweet, but since your saliva cannot break down these sweeteners, they don’t cause cavities.
Does Chewing Gum Replace Brushing and Flossing?
No way are you getting off the hook! Brushing twice a day and flossing daily are essential components to cutting down on gum disease and tooth decay.
Increased saliva production goes a long way toward rinsing off your teeth, but you need to mechanically scrub away food particles and bacteria to keep your chompers in check.
Be Careful with Gum
Chewing sugar-free gum offers many benefits, but it isn’t without negatives.
There are some things you should know before chewing gum:
- Chewing gum isn’t a good choice for someone who wears braces. Not only can the gum get caught in the brackets, but the force from chewing can put stress on your wires that causes them to bend out of shape.
- If you have a dog, make sure not to store xylitol-sweetened gum in low places. While this sweetener is safe for human use, it’s toxic to dogs.
- A common misconception is that gum takes 7 years to digest. In reality, your body is able to process small amounts of gum, so there’s no need to panic if you swallow a piece or two. However, if large amounts of gum are swallowed at a time, this can cause intestinal blockage in rare cases. Keep gum away from your children until they understand the importance of not swallowing it.
Your dentist will be able to answer any questions you may have about chewing gum. They may even be able to recommend a type of gum that is ideally suited for you.