Most of us chew gum, and we chew it for a variety of reasons. Whether it’s a piece before a first date, or after a particularly strong cup of coffee, many of us use the chewy stuff to keep our mouths smelling clean and fresh as we go about our day.
We see gum promoted in advertisements as something you can use not only to keep your breath smelling fresh; but to whiten and clean your teeth, improving your oral health.
Exaggerated marketing, or bona-fide fact? The answer lies in the ingredients of the gum you choose to chew.
The Potential Benefits
It comes as no surprise that if you’re chewing gum with a lot of sugar in it, it’s going to be bad for your teeth. Sugar promotes the growth of plaque bacteria, which in turn promotes the development of cavities, the decay of enamel, and other issues.
It’s because of this that many companies, such as Wrigley’s, have begun to use both aspartame and a substance known as Xylitol as a substitute for sugar in their products.
A naturally occurring compound that has been shown to prevent tooth decay, the National Centre for Biotechnology Information writes that Xylitol, “reduces the levels of mutans streptococci … in plaque and saliva by disrupting their energy production processes, leading to futile energy cycle and cell death … Consumption of xylitol chewing gum for >3 weeks leads to both long-term and short-term reduction in salivary and plaque S. mutans levels.”
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Less bacteria on your teeth means less enamel-eating acid created, which means a healthier mouth. Brands like Confadent advertise and discuss their use of Xylitol as a safe alternative to aspartame, and a plaque reducer.
According to Delta Dental of California, “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.”
This sounds like a big-time benefit for your pearly whites, but how do the results compare to projection? Some research shows that the evidence regarding the long term benefits of Xylitol as a dental hygiene product is still unclear.
According to a review published by the American Dental Association in 2015, while there is some evidence that Xylitol may reduce tooth decay over a period of years, the evidence is low quality.
Research published by the Cochrane Library website suggests that there just isn’t enough high quality evidence to confirm that Xylitol prevents tooth decay.
Philip Riley, M.P.H., of the School of Dentistry at the University of Manchester in the UK, is quoted as writing, “More well-conducted, randomized placebo-controlled trials that are large enough (in terms of number of randomized participants) to show a difference, if one exists, are needed.”
The Cochrane Library review stresses in its conclusions, “We found some low quality evidence to suggest that fluoride toothpaste containing xylitol may be more effective than fluoride-only toothpaste … The effect estimate should be interpreted with caution due to high risk of bias and the fact that it results from two studies that were carried out by the same authors in the same population.”
So, What to Do?
In the end, the conclusions are yours to draw based on the evidence given, but it’s safe to say that chewing gum with Xylitol is better for your teeth than its sugary counterparts. While there needs to be some more research done to better reinforce this conclusion, Xylitol has indeed been shown to reduce cavity causing bacteria in the mouth.
Still, if you want to keep your teeth healthy, at the end of the day no gum is a substitute for regular brushing and flossing. For more information on Xylitol, its benefits and drawbacks, you can check out this article from Access Dental, or this one from Delta Dental.