Navigating the World of Chewing Gum

Chewing gum is something most people use at one point or another in their lives. It's also the subject of a host of "don't do it" type articles online. If you're unsure if you should continue chewing gum after seeing those articles, read on; you'll find that it's not so much gum itself as what's in it or when you chew it that's the issue.

Sugar vs. Sugarless

Gum is available with three different types of sweeteners: sugar, artificial sugar substitutes (such as sucralose), and natural substitutes such as the sugar alcohol xylitol. Sugar-containing gum exposes your teeth to sugar constantly -- it's not like there's a layer of sugar that disappears the moment you start chewing. So if you're trying to avoid sugar or reduce your intake, you don't want to chew gum that has sugar in it.

Synthetic or artificial sweeteners are controversial in that some people do not like to use these substances, especially in light of some studies that may show adverse reactions over time. However, if you want to chew gum and don't want the sugar, a gum with synthetic substitutes could be fine given that you're not ingesting massive amounts of the sweetener.

Sugar alcohols like xylitol are another option. These are naturally occurring substances in plants that are both sweet and, in the case of xylitol, may have beneficial effects on tooth health and decay prevention. However, they can cause gastrointestinal upset if you ingest too much, which is a risk if you're constantly chewing gum or if you add in xylitol-containing mints to your daily diet. Xylitol is also a major health risk for dogs, so if you have dogs that like to get into everything you own and chew it up, you might not want xylitol gum in your home.

Saliva and Cavities

Chewing gum does substantially increase the amount of saliva you produce, which helps wash away food particles and bacteria, reducing the risk of decay. However, if you chew sugar-containing gum, you're not going to get as much benefit because you're still adding sugar to the environment in your mouth. If you are trying to prevent decay, sugarless gum is the way to go.

Stress Relief

However, if you chew gum for stress relief -- and this is a valid reason to chew gum -- then you need to find a gum that you will chew. Sometimes xylitol and other substitutes don't provide a level of sweetness or flavor boosting that makes you want to continue using that brand of gum. If you find that the only gum that helps you stay calm has sugar in it, be extra vigilant about brushing and flossing regularly.

Temporomandibular Joint Disorder

There are situations in which you need to stop chewing gum, and if you have temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ, that clicking or catching you experience in your jaw hinge when you open your mouth), you need to stop chewing gum altogether. Don't chew gum unless your dentist has given you the OK.

Mint Gum and Appetite

Putting everything else aside, there is one time when chewing gum may have a bad effect on your health no matter how good you are at taking care of your teeth. Apparently, if you chew mint gum before eating, you may be more likely to reach for unhealthy foods at your next meal. The mint flavor of the gum, like that of toothpaste, can make foods like fruits taste bad. If you like to chew gum a lot, try to avoid mint gum around mealtimes.

If you have more questions about chewing gum, talk to your dentist. You may have other conditions that require caution when choosing a gum (such as orthodontic work), or you may be able to get good recommendations for brands to try. For more information, contact a business such as Olson, Brant N DDS PA.