When it comes to chewing gum, it’s the type of gum you chew that determines whether it’s helpful or harmful to your teeth. While chewing gum containing sugar may actually increase your chances of developing a cavity, there is clinical evidence that demonstrates just the opposite for sugar-free gum. And there’s even better news when it comes to chewing sugar-free gum that contains xylitol. Xylitol is a natural sweetener and is found in some berries, fruit, vegetables and mushrooms. It has a sweetness equal to that of sugar. Xylitol is usually made from birch bark. Sugar-free gum sweetened with xylitol has the added benefit of reducing the growth of Streptococcus mutans, one of the oral bacteria that cause cavities. In the presence of xylitol, the bacteria lose the ability to adhere to the tooth, stunting the cavity-causing process. With xylitol use over a period of time, the types of bacteria in the mouth change and fewer decay-causing bacteria survive on tooth surfaces.
Why is chewing sugar-free gum good for my teeth and gums?
Chewing sugar-free gum helps protect your teeth and gums in between meals when it may not be possible to brush with a toothbrush and toothpaste.
Your teeth are more at risk of acid attack after you have eaten. The acid is produced by plaque bacteria, and the sugars in our food and drink, and it slowly dissolves away the enamel and dentine of the tooth, to produce a hole or ‘cavity’. (Plaque is the thin, sticky film that keeps forming on your teeth. It contains many types of bacteria which can cause tooth decay and gum disease.)
You can reduce this acid attack by chewing sugar-free gum, as it helps the mouth to produce more saliva – the mouth’s natural defence against acid.
Chewing gum however is not a substitute for regularly brushing and flossing your teeth.
Can sugar-free gum help to protect against dental erosion?
Dental erosion is caused by the acids in the things we eat and drink, such as citrus fruit, fruit juices and fizzy drinks. These start to eat into the enamel covering the teeth, and remove some of the minerals making up the enamel. By helping us make more saliva, chewing sugar-free gum can also help to reduce this type of acid attack. It takes the saliva about an hour to replace the minerals that the enamel has lost. Chewing sugar-free gum for 20 minutes after eating or drinking can increase the flow of saliva, and help replace the minerals more quickly.