The Health Benefits of Chewing Gum

By Richard Asa and Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
September 19, 2023
The Health Benefits of Chewing Gum

Chewing gum stimulates salivary flow, which in turn neutralizes acid and helps prevent cavities. Here's why chewing gum has benefits and what you should know.

More than 5,700 years ago, a girl spat out a wad of gum made from birch bark, which turned up at an archaeological site in Denmark. Gum chewing goes back to the earliest days of humanity, but why?  

Modern researchers have begun to identify its benefits.


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Chewing gum produces saliva

One clear benefit of chewing gum is to fill your mouth with a particular kind of saliva. The workhorse of your mouth, saliva clears away harmful bacteria and neutralizes harmful acids.

When chewing stimulates your mouth, it produces from 10 to 12 times as much saliva. That stimulated saliva contains much more of a key ingredient called bicarbonate, compared to unstimulated saliva. Bicarbonate helps to minimize plaque, the culprit in cavities, tooth decay, gum disease, and bad breath.

That explains why, as the American Dental Association (ADA) notes, chewing sugar-free gum has been shown to reduce cavities. Researchers have documented that chewing sugarless gum, usually xylitol gum, lowers levels of the bacteria that causes most cavities in your mouth.

Bicarbonate is also important in balancing stomach acid. Although saliva is generally alkaline, the bicarbonate-heavy stimulated saliva may be especially effective at easing symptoms of acid reflux.

Pregnant and breastfeeding women, both prone to reflux, are sometimes advised to chew gum. But pay attention to your response. Chewing gum might aggravate your reflux if you swallow air or an artificial sweetener or flavoring like peppermint affects you.

Dry mouth is a common complaint among the elderly, affecting up to 40 percent. If chewing gum helps, but you dislike it, you may get a lasting benefit from a short try.

If you chew gum daily for at least two weeks, you can prompt your mouth to produce more saliva without that extra stimulation, according to a meta-analysis.

Gum chewing can moderate nausea and is even recommended for post-surgical patients.

Mental benefits of chewing gum

When you chew gum, you may feel more relaxed and focused. A meta-analysis that uncovered eight random controlled clinical trials, involving more than 400 adults, concluded that “chewing gum is an inexpensive, well-tolerated, safe, and effective way to relieve anxiety and stress.”

Some people chew gum to stay awake when they’re driving or studying late.

Chewing may increase blood flow to parts of the brain linked to learning and memory. A small study concluded that chewing gum while studying led to better scores on academic tests. Another found that chewing gum during the workday increased focus.

But other research contradicts the idea that chewing improves performance on tasks.

Stick to sugar-free gum

Chewing may be harmless if you stick to sugarless gum.

The ADA has given its seal of approval to gums containing non-cavity-causing sweeteners, including aspartame, sorbitol, xylitol, and mannitol.

While chewing gum doesn’t replace brushing and flossing, it can be an effective stopgap measure if you’re traveling and an everyday strategy to handle reflux, anxiety, and nausea.


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September 19, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN