Kids loves chewing gum. They anticipate the age where mom or dad says it is ok to start chewing gum without the fear of choking. When it comes to chewing gum, it is the type of gum that really make the difference in whether it is helpful or harmful to your teeth. If the gum you choose contains sugar, then you are essentially giving your teeth a bath of sweetness. This can invite those pesky oral bacteria to begin secreting acid, which, as we know, causes cavities or tooth decay. Sugar-free gum, however, can be helpful to reducing acid load in our mouths and can actually help prevent cavities. Gum sweetened with xylitol can be even better for your teeth than other sweeteners.
Studies have shown that chewing a sugar-free gum after a meal or snack can help to neutralize the acids that are released by the bacteria in your mouth. These bacteria can be harmful to the tooth enamel. Your saliva flow rate is increased up to ten fold when you chew gum. This increase in saliva flow neutralizes those acids and it helps to wash away any leftover food in your mouth.
Sugar-free gum containing the ingredient xylitol has an extra benefit. Xylitol actually helps to inhibit the growth of the oral bacteria that causes cavities, Streptococcus mutants. These bacteria lose its ability to stick to teeth while xylitol is present. That makes getting a cavity much harder. Xylitol sweetens gum, but doesn’t help bacteria secrete harmful acid like sugar does.
This xylitol sugar-free gum sounds great right? For most people, this is a great option. However, if you have TMJ issues or symptoms, gum chewing is often not recommended. The temporomandibular joint can be damaged by accidents or by genetics and chewing gum in these instances can prove harmful. Your dentist can help make that judgment call and recommend what options are available in those situations.
Of course, chewing gum can aide in reducing the bacteria in your mouth, but, it doesn’t not replace good oral hygiene habits including brushing your teeth twice a day, and everyone’s favorite, flossing.
Dr. Jamie Sahouria is Rohnert Park's only full time, board certified pediatric dentist. She works at 1303 Medical Center Drive, where she and partner doctors provide dental care and braces for kids and adults. Dr. Jamie is a Rohnert Park native and is a proud graduate of The Ranch. She can be reached via her website at www.BrushFlosssSmile.com