I often have patients ask me about chewing gum- risks, benefits, etc? So I decided this blog topic would address this. Let’s get started with the basics of dental cavities. The process of dental cavities or dental caries is very complex and has many contributing factors. But to bring it to its simplest form, this is the best explanation: All humans have bacterial organisms living in their mouths that are called Strep mutans. This is the bacteria that is responsible for dental decay. As we sit down to eat a cheeseburger, we are also feeding the Strep mutans that reside in our mouths. These bacteria break down food particles and produce an acid. This acid is the true culprit of tooth decay. As the acid bathes our teeth we begin to lose the mineral structure of the enamel and this is the story of tooth decay. The good news is that this process is cyclic and we can have periods of mineral loss followed by periods where the tooth gains mineral- overtime this is a constant battle and when there are more periods of mineral loss than mineral gain- our tooth begins to break down and we get cavities.
So… the question is- what can you and I do to help win this battle between mineral loss and mineral gain? Since the topic of this post is chewing gum, let’s take a look at it. From a dental standpoint, chewing gum following a meal has a couple of benefits. First, it acts to physically pull food particles from the teeth, as you chew you are in essence cleaning your teeth (I know some of you are thinking- great! now I don’t have to brush anymore.. it isn’t that simple). Second, and one of the biggest benefits of chewing gum is that it increases salivary flow. This is HUGE! Remember the battle we discussed above about acid and mineral loss, well saliva plays a big role in washing the acids off of the teeth and bringing the mouth back to a more neutral level. By chewing gum following a meal you are neutralizing your mouth and decreasing the amount of time mineral loss will take place from the teeth.
Lastly, let’s discuss which type of chewing gum is the best. My first recommendation would be to find a chewing gum that is sugar free, but above that that is sweetened by XYLITOL. Xylitol must be listed as the top ingredient; otherwise, it is possible that it is a secondary sweetener. The role of xylitol and the cavity process is still being investigated, but we do know that the bacteria in our mouth cannot use this form of sweetener to produce acid. Even some other sugar free sweeteners can be consumed by Strep mutans to produce acids in the mouth. My favorite chewing gum is ICE BREAKERS ICE CUBES! It comes in a variety of flavors and contains Xylitol as the main sweetener. So, the next time you eat a meal, consider following it with a piece of xylitol chewing gum!