When it comes to chewing gum, it's the type of gum you chew that makes a difference in 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 is sweetened with xylitol.
Sugar-free gum helps to clean teeth:
Studies have shown that chewing sugar-free gum after meals and snacks can help rinse off and neutralize the acids released by the bacteria in plaque, which are harmful to tooth enamel. Both the act of chewing and the flavor of the artificial sweeteners in the gum stimulate ten times the normal rate of saliva flow. Not only does the increased saliva flow neutralize the acids in your mouth, it also washes away food particles, helping to keep your teeth clean.
Xylitol reduces decay-causing bacteria: Sugar-free gum sweetened with xylitol has the added benefit of inhibiting 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.
To chew or not to chew: Although chewing sugar-free gum can be beneficial in most instances, there are some cases in which chewing gum is not recommended. For example, if you are experiencing any type of jaw pain or temporomandibular disorder symptoms (TMD/TMJ), you should refrain from chewing gum and talk to your dentist about what options are available to you.
For most people, chewing sugar-free gum (especially gum sweetened with xylitol) can be a good preventive measure in situations when toothbrushing and flossing aren't practical, but sugar-free or not, chewing gum should never replace good dental hygiene practices.
Information courtesy of the Academy of General Dentistry