It stimulates salivary flow, which in turn neutralizes acid and helps prevent cavities.
Gum chewing is practically as old as civilization itself, but only recently has its health benefits been studied.
Chewing sugarless gum has clear benefits because it increases the amount of saliva in your mouth. Saliva is the workhorse of your mouth, providing minerals that help prevent tooth decay.
It also helps clear your mouth of transient bacteria that might be harmful and neutralizes harmful acids produced by bacteria from the food you eat.
Stimulated saliva has more beneficial bicarbonate than saliva at rest, according to a paper in Nature.
All these benefits of chewing gum add up to the prevention of cavities.
"Gum is a convenient and pleasant way to stimulate salivary flow. You could just chew on wax, but gum is readily available and tastes better," says Stephen J. Moss, past president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.
Some overall health benefits touted by both Wrigley and Cadbury, the two largest gum manufactures, include: increased strength during strenuous activity, improvement of task performance, improvement of short-term memory, improvement of ability to concentrate, usefulness in weight control, smoking cessation, improvement of mood, and a feeling of well being and stress relief.
“There is evidence that chewing increases blood flow to the brain, and this may contribute to the increase in alertness that is consistently associated with gum chewing,” says Dr. Andrew Scholey, co-author of a 2009 paper and director of the Centre for Human Psychopharmacology at Australia’s Swinburne University.
Scholey adds that gum’s mood-elevating anti-stress powers come from a reduction in the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn comes from chewing.
Still another study, had people chew gum throughout the morning hours. Those people ended up eating 67 percent fewer calories at lunchtime, compared to their midday meals on a day when they didn’t chew gum. They didn’t add those calories back during the afternoon and evening.
“Gum may provide a quick pick-me-up if you’re feeling frazzled, unfocused or famished,” Markham writes. “And while chewing the mint varieties before meals or snacks may lead you to select less-healthy foods, a stick of sugar-free gum after a meal could protect your teeth from cavities.”
Gum chewing also makes you more alert, although there’s some question as to whether you’re actually paying better attention, according to a study.
“Certainly, the act of chewing is rewarding and can be arousing because it implies that nutrients are on their way to the brain. Also, stimulation of the trigeminal nerve that innervates the jaw muscles is likely arousing,” writes Gary L. Wenk, PhD.
Overall gum chewing significantly increased alertness, quickened reaction time, and increased the speed of encoding new information. Gum chewing did not impair the ability to pay attention by distracting participants from their current task.
But clearly the most documented benefit of gum chewing lies in improving oral health.
“Clinical studies have shown that chewing sugarless gum for 20 minutes following meals can help prevent tooth decay,” writes the American Dental Association. “In the future, look for chewing gum that delivers a variety of therapeutic agents that could provide additional benefits to those provided by the ability of gum to mechanically stimulate saliva flow.”
While chewing gum doesn’t replace brushing and flossing, it can be an effective stopgap measure when you’re out and about and don’t happen to have a toothbrush handy.
January 31, 2017
Janet O’Dell, RN