The stick of chewing gum may be a fairly recent creation, but the concept of chewing something you don’t swallow is far from new. There’s evidence that people have been chewing gum in one form or another for potentially 9,000 years. The following is an examination of what exactly gum is and what effects modern-day chewing gum has on people’s teeth.
Ancient Chewing Gum Came from Tree Resin
Chewing gum was widely used in ancient cultures, which derived gum from trees that were native to their regions. Ancient Northern Europeans chewed on the tar of birch bark trees, while the Mayans and the Aztec used “chicle” that came from the sapodilla tree.
The practice of chewing tree resin has continued throughout history, with cultures using gum to address everything from hunger and thirst to bad breath and tooth pain.
Modern Chewing Gum is Synthetically Made
Modern chewing gum doesn’t come from tree resin but is instead mostly made out of synthetic rubbers. To these rubbers, gum makers add a variety of sweeteners that create the flavors people love. The rubbers themselves aren’t necessarily disconcerting, but some of the sweeteners are known to have detrimental effects.
A few of the more potentially harmful added sweeteners gum makers use are:
- High-fructose corn syrup
Although all of these substances are approved by the Food and Drug Administration, concerns over everything from increased risk of diabetes to potential links with cancer remain.
An alternative to the above-noted sweeteners, some gum is instead flavored with xylitol. Xylitol is a naturally occurring compound found in fruits and vegetables, and it’s FDA-approved. It sweet but completely sugar-free and hasn’t been connected with many of the potential negative consequences that the other sweeteners have been.
Chewing Gum Has Many Benefits
For all the concern over some of the additive sweeteners used in chewing gum, gum has been established to have multiple good benefits.
For example, gum has been shown to help reduce stress and increase memory. People have also successfully used it to assist with quitting smoking and losing weight.
Of course, gum also has several dental benefits. The most obvious is that it alleviates bad breath. Gum also causes an increase in saliva production, which helps regulate pH in the mouth, and sugarless gum can aid in the prevention of tooth decay.
Chewing Gum Has Potential Downsides
In some situations, chewing gum also has potential downsides. People occasionally suffer from headaches or experience digestive distress, especially if they use an extreme amount of gum. Gum also may causes issues with the jaw.
By far the most common danger of chewing gum comes with the use of sugar-laden gum. Gum that is sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup or other another sugar-based substance is terrible for the teeth and often contributes to tooth decay. Many people who chew this gum regularly suffer from cavities and other sugar-related dental problems.
Xylitol Chewing Gum is the Safest Option
Of all the available options for chewing gum, gum that is sweetened with xylitol is the safest option. With this gum, you can experience the benefits of chewing gum and avoid tooth decay (and usually the other downsides as well).
To find xylitol-based gum, read the ingredients on the back of packs of gum and look for the American Dental Association seal of approval on the front. Any gum with the ADA seal on it is safe for your teeth — and might even be good for them.
Chewing Gum Isn’t a Substitute for Oral Hygiene Habits
As good as xylitol chewing gum might be, it’s not a substitute for good oral hygiene habits, As always, make sure you’re brushing twice each day and flossing every day as well.
Triangle Dentistry, located in Raleigh, NC, provides a state-of-the-art facility that offers exceptional general dental and specialty services guided by empathy of a patient’s needs and desires. Services range from dental crowns to veneers and whitening procedures. For further information, questions, or to schedule an appointment, contact the office at (919) 747-3608.