We all know that most advertisements like to stretch the truth. Body spray will not make you more attractive, low-fat yogurt will not make you thin, and dads are perfectly capable of changing a diaper correctly. But what about gum? Can chewing gum after or in between meals really help to clean teeth and freshen breath? As it turns out, this is one promise advertisers make that could actually stand up under scrutiny. This does, however, depend on the type of gum you are chewing. The ingredients make a big difference in whether gum can be helpful or harmful to your mouth. Scott Edwards DDS wants to help your smile stay bright and beautiful, so keep reading below for more information on how chewing gum can affect your oral health!
There are so many brands, types, and flavors of gum available that it can be hard to know what is good for you and what you want to avoid. The simplest rule of thumb is, stay away from any gum with actual sugar. Plaque bacteria love to feed off of sugar, and anything with added sugar invites more bad bacteria to the party. Some of the sugar in gum can also change to a glue-like texture, making it harder for saliva to wash it away. This can increase the risk for cavities, tooth decay, and a number of other dental issues. Steering clear of sugar-laden gum will go a long way towards keeping your pearly whites clean and bright.
Sugar-free gum, on the other hand, is not quite so cut and dried. Some sugar-free gum is as bad for your teeth as the kind made with pure sugar. Many gums contain food acids to give them flavor, and this can contribute to dental erosion. Erosion is not caused by sugar or bacteria, but occurs when acid dissolves the hard tissues of the tooth. This strips away the surface layers of tooth enamel, causing sensitivity and sometimes even pain as it progresses. Not all sugar-free gums contain food acids, but because some do, it is important to pay attention to ingredients before you pop a piece or two in your mouth. It is also worth knowing the difference between the sweeteners commonly used, such as:
A natural sweetener that is derived from the fibrous parts of plants, xylitol is a sugar substitute in the form of sugar alcohol. Because it does not break down like regular sugar, it can prevent bacteria from sticking to the teeth as well as help keep a neutral pH level in the mouth, giving additional protection from tooth decay. The bad bacteria in your mouth that causes cavities is not able to digest xylitol, so the growth is greatly reduced, and acid cannot be formed because the pH of the saliva and plaque stays about the same.
Xylitol can also help repair damage to the enamel. Saliva that has xylitol in it is more alkaline than saliva that’s been stimulated by other sugar products. After chewing gum with xylitol, the concentration of basic amino acids and ammonia in saliva and plaque may rise, and the plaque pH rises as well. When pH is above a certain level, calcium and phosphate salts in saliva start to move into weakened parts of the enamel, beginning the process of hardening them up again. Both the US Food and Drug Administration and the European Union have officially recognized the oral health benefits of xylitol.
Aspartame is one of the most common and popular artificial sweeteners, and is actually quite a bit sweeter than sugar itself. It is often used as a low-calorie alternative to sugar, and like xylitol, it is not a threat to oral health. However, it has not been found to have any benefit to oral health, either.
As with xylitol, sorbitol is another naturally occurring sugar alcohol, but it is more commonly used. The effects of sorbitol are similar to aspartame, and has also been found to be neither harmful nor helpful to your oral health.
We have been told since we were kids that the calcium in milk and other dairy products helps to build strong bones and teeth. Recaldent, also known as casein phosphopeptides–amorphous calcium phosphate or CPP-ACP, is not a sweetener, but it is found in some sugar-free gum. Made from casein, the major protein found in cow’s milk, CPP-ACP can penetrate the tooth enamel and remineralize areas that have been affected by plaque bacteria. While it cannot replace fluoride in protecting the teeth, it can work with it to strengthen enamel more effectively than fluoride on its own. Sugar-free gum that has CPP-ACP added to it results in both less dental decay and stronger tooth enamel. When paired with xylitol, it can also help reduce the amount of cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth.
Increase salivary flow while freshening breath
The chewing of sugarless gum increases the flow of saliva while freshening your breath. This increased flow neutralizes acids produced by bacteria in your mouth, and provides disease-fighting substances throughout the mouth. It also carries more calcium and phosphate to help strengthen tooth enamel. While it normally takes saliva an hour or more after eating to replace the minerals we have lost, chewing gum can speed that process up, while washing any leftover food or other debris from your mouth.
Look for the ADA seal of approval
When choosing a gum, look for one that has been approved by the American Dental Association. This means the product has met their requirements for safety and efficacy, including reducing plaque acids, promoting the remineralization of tooth enamel, potentially reducing cavities and helping to reduce gingivitis. It must also be safe for oral tissue. Currently, the only chewing gum with an ADA seal are sugar-free.
Increase your oral health with Scott Edwards DDS – and sugarless gum
We know oral health care is important to you, and it is important to us as well! When combined with a regular routine of brushing, flossing, and rinsing, chewing sugar-free gum can be an additional tool in protecting your teeth and keeping them healthy and strong. Look for ADA-approved sugar-free gum containing xylitol for the best bang for your buck, and add a power punch with CPP-ACP if you can find a product containing it.
For the best in oral health, be sure to book regular dental check ups with Scott Edwards DDS at one of our two conveniently located Memphis offices — and chew a stick of sugarless gum in between!