Chewing sugar-free gum helps reduce plaque, a sticky bacterial substance that contributes to tooth decay. Chewing stimulates the production of saliva which, in turn, neutralizes acids formed by plaque. Acid gradually breaks down tooth enamel, creating decay and, ultimately, cavities, according to the American Dental Association. Cavities are holes in a tooth's enamel. Untreated tooth decay caused by cavities destroys a tooth's internal structure and may mean having the tooth pulled.
The effects of chewing gum on tooth decay depends on whether the gum contains sugar. The American Dental Association notes that sugar-free gum actually helps prevent tooth decay. Gum that contains sugar contributes to tooth decay because the sugar produces acids that attack tooth enamel. Sugarless gum helps to fight tooth decay because it increases the flow of saliva, which helps neutralize acids.
Acidic foods and bacteria can dissolve the minerals found in tooth enamel, but these minerals are naturally replaced by the saliva. However, a poor diet can promote weakening of the tooth enamel. Saliva production stimulated by chewing sugar-free gum contains higher concentrations of remineralizing ions and bicarbonate to aid mineral replacement.
Decay Prevention Tips
It's best to chew gum immediately after eating, when acids are produced by the sugars and carbohydrates found in food. However, the American Dental Association also says that gum chewing should be combined with flossing and brushing with a fluoride toothpaste twice a day. Look for chewing gum sporting the ADA seal, which means the product has demonstrated effectiveness in helping prevent tooth decay.
A study conducted by researchers from the University of Minnesota's School of Dentistry and published in the Journal of the American Dental Association in July 2000 found that gum containing xylitol, a sweetener with anti-bacterial properties, temporarily suppressed the bacteria that causes tooth decay. People participating in the trial were given an oral mouth rinse to reduce the formation of bacteria. The subjects were assigned to a test, placebo or control group after treatment with the mouth rinse was discontinued. The study found that those who chewed xylitol three times daily after meals had lower levels of oral bacteria. Researchers also found that commercial gums containing xylitol were helpful in controlling tooth decay when used with other preventative steps, such as adhering to a healthy diet.
- Better OralHealth.Info: The Oral Health Advantages of Chewing Sugarfree Gum; Juliette Reeves
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Dental cavities - Overview
- 21st Century Dental: Chewing Gum Puts Clamp on Tooth-Decay Bacteria
- Journal of the American Dental Association: Maintaining Mutans Streptococci Suppression With Xylitol Chewing Gum; Gary H Hildebrandt and Brandon S Sparks; July 2000
- SmartaHealth: Enamel Re-Mineralization
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images
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