Chewing Gum for Healthy Teeth

Chewing gum. It’s outlawed in Singapore and Disneyland, but in America today, every gum_good_for_teethadult chews an average of 300 pieces of gum a year.

All that gum chewing can be beneficial, particularly after eating. Eating produces acids in your mouth. “Acids break down tooth enamel, and that leads to decay,” says Dr. Carol Ford from her Phoenix dental office. “But chewing gum increases saliva production. Saliva carries calcium and phosphates that help strengthen enamel,” Dr. Ford says.

People have been chewing gum for thousands of years, and gum has taken many forms. The Greeks chewed sap from the mastic tree. This gum was called mastiche, from the Greek word meaning “to chew.” It’s the same word that gave us the English word for chewing,  “masticate.”

Native Americans chewed spruce-tree sap. Its flavor was not considered tasty enough, and was eventually replaced with a type of paraffin wax mixed with sugar that was not chewy enough. The happy, chewy medium that made gum a popular confection came from the Mayans, who chewed the rubber-like sap called chicle.

According to Chemical and Engineering News, Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, remembered for the battle of the Alamo, brought chicle with him from exile in Mexico. After World War II, all the tree sap largely disappeared from gum and replaced by “gum base,” a mix of synthetics and a bit of latex. In the last 25 years, chewing gum became and easy and popular way to reduce mouth dryness and freshen breath.

The American Dental Association says “Clinical studies have shown that chewing sugarless gum for 20 minutes following meals can help prevent tooth decay.“ The important word in that sentence is “sugarless.’ Confection gums loaded with sugar aren’t going to help.

Xylitol, a sucrose-free sugar alcohol is used to sweeten many sugar-free gums that have the ADA approval rating. Xylitol helps prevent plaque from forming because it is specifically an inhibitor of the bacteria that form plaque. In addition it re-mineralizes teeth, safely building up lost tooth enamel.

“We can’t be with every patient all the time,” says Dr. Ford, “but chewing Xylitol-containing gum will help teeth stay bright and clean. But that doesn’t mean you can skip a visit,“ she smiles.


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