Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Does Chewing Gum Help or Hurt My Teeth?

Benefit of Chewing Gum on Teeth Health

February 9th, 2008, By Dental Health Magazine Staff

The chewing of gum is said to be the world’s most common habit, with about 100,000 tons of it being consumed every year. Most of us are familiar with the negative aspects of chewing gum, when we find it on chairs, stuck under desks or contaminating pavements and therefore our shoes. However, there are also many benefits to chewing gum.

Studies have shown that chewing gum can have an indirect, positive effect on dental hygiene, teeth health. Chewing gum after meals helps to stimulate the production of saliva and overall salivary flow. Saliva helps to wash away and neutralize the acid produced by bacteria in plaque. This acid is responsible for dental decay and bad breath. Chewing gum can also help relieve pressure in your ears and sinuses by encouraging jaw movement.

The popular perception is that chewing gum is bad for the teeth. However, many dentists (one source says 90%!) believe that chewing sugarless gum after meals actually has health benefits! Indeed, Wrigley’s Orbit sugar-free gum was the first sugar-free chewing gum to be awarded accreditation by the British Dental Association (BDA) in recognition of its contribution to good oral health.

The benefits arise from the fact that tooth decay occurs when essential minerals are dissolved from the tooth enamel by acids produced by the bacteria in plaque. Teeth are at their most vulnerable directly after meals and snacks, when plaque acid levels can rise dramatically.

However, chewing gum removes these acids within minutes, thus slowing down the process of tooth decay. One reason for this is that chewing can stimulate saliva production by up to ten-fold, thus flushing out oral bacteria. Furthermore, saliva contains hydrogen carbonate ions, a mild alkali, which serves to neutralize plaque acids. For this reason, hydrogen carbonate is used in some toothpastes.

Saliva also contains minerals such as calcium, phosphate and fluoride – all components of tooth enamel – which can be assimilated and thus help to repair early decay and also strengthen tooth enamel.

On the other hand, chewing gum typically contains a sweetener of some type. Chewing gum that contains sugar, for example, can be harmful to your teeth. Sugar fuels the acid-producing bacteria in your mouth. Brands of gum containing sugar can be harmful to your teeth if these types of gum are chewed too often or are removed from the mouth too soon.

In fact, studies have shown that if a person chews gum containing sugar, it should be chewed for at least 15 to 20 minutes. After this time, the sugar is gone, but the saliva is sufficiently stimulated to rinse away some of the sugar residue.

There are, however, a number of sweeteners that help prevent cavities and reduce the acid production in your mouth. Xylitol, a natural sweetener found in many fruits and vegetables, tastes and looks like sugar but without the negative side effects. Chewing gum that contains high levels of xylitol fights cavities and dental decay by creating an unwelcome environment for bacteria. Xylitol is one of bacteria’s natural enemies-in a xylitol-rich environment, bacteria lose their ability to stick to teeth and are therefore unable to colonize and turn into plaque.

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