Patients always ask me my opinion on gum chewing, so I thought I would share with you some of my thoughts. In a nutshell, gum chewing is not only safe for your teeth, but some gum is actually scientifically proven to be very beneficial to your overall oral health, and to decreasing your incidence of cavities. The point though, is that for it to be beneficial, the sweetener in the sugar-free gum needs to be Xylitol. First, let me give you a little background on gum-chewing, the science behind xylitol, and then my recommendations.
Gum chewing goes back thousands of years to the ancient Greek civilization, but the first piece of gum sold commercially, is credited to an Ohio dentist named William Semple in 1869. The true godfather of chewing gum, is none other than William Wrigley, who came onto the scene in 1891. He introduced Juicy Fruit, and Wrigley's Spearmint and Doublemint Gum. Bubble gum soon followed, and then chewing gum's popularity soared when the Topps Company added baseball cards to their packaging of gum in 1951. The sticky nature and high sugar content of gum led to enormous increases in tooth decay. A year later, as consumers became more health conscious, sugarless gum was introduced by a Dr. Petrulis. Yes, he too was a dentist.
Over the years, the sweetening ingredient of sugarless chewing gum has gone from Ammonia, to Cyclamate, to Aspartame, to Sorbitol, and finally, coming to the point of this article, to Xylitol. Unlike saccharin (Sweet'N Low), aspartame (NutraSweet and Equal), sucralose (Splenda), and many other toxic, man made chemicals, xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar substitute found in the fibres of many fruits and vegetables including berries, oats, corn, and mushrooms. Although it has a very sweet taste, xylitol does not raise blood sugar or insulin levels, so it is excellent for diabetics.
Research shows that xylitol actually reduces the plaque build up on our teeth by starving the harmful bacteria in our mouths that cause tooth decay and gum disease. Xylitol also lowers the amount of acid in our saliva, leading to remineralization of small cavities, i.e reversing tooth decay!!!! We know that gum disease, or periodontal disease, has scientifically been linked to higher incidence of heart attack and stroke, so anything that reduces plaque formation is very beneficial to our overall health.
Studies have also shown that xylitol chewing gum can also help prevent ear infections. The act of chewing and swallowing helps to clear the middle ear and helps with the removal of earwax. The xylitol content of the gum prevents the bacteria's ability to stick to our tissues, including the lining of the eustachian tube, which connects the ear to the throat.
Other very interesting studies show how xylitol can actually improve bone density in rats and prevent further weakening of bones in osteoporosis. A Finnish study has shown a dramatic 70% decrease in tooth decay among children whose mothers chewed xylitol gum. This can be explained because infants get the harmful bacteria that cause tooth decay from their mothers' saliva through food tasting, sharing cups, etc.
The most common sugar free brands of chewing gum available today contain a combination of aspartame, sorbitol, and mannitol.
Aspartame has been linked to increased incidence of headaches, depression, brain tumours and many other harmful side-effects. In temperatures above 86 degrees farenheit, the aspartame in a can of soda begins to convert to fomaldehyde, which is highly toxic.( So, diet soda drinkers, read the label carefully!! )
Sorbitol, is often the first ingredient found on the labels of many sugar-free gums. It is a naturally occurring sugar alternative with fewer negative side effects than aspartame. Unfortunately, as little as 5 grams ( 4 pieces of sorbitol sweetened gum) can cause stomach distress in some people. Many avid gum chewers complain of bloating and diarrhea, and this would be the cause. On the rare occasion, irritable bowel syndrome may result.
Mannitol is the 3rd most common sweetener found in sugar-free gum and is very similar to sorbitol.
It is likely that you will find all 3 of the above sweeteners in your favourite chewing gum. Check out the label now if you can!!
Xylitol's beneficial effects in preventing and reversing tooth decay occurs only if 6-10 grams per day are consumed. If xylitol is listed as the second ingredient on the label, assume that there will only be approximately .2 grams of xylitol present in each piece. That means you need 30 pieces of gum daily to get the desired effect. Unfortunately, that will deliver unacceptably high levels of the first ingredient which will be aspartame or sorbitol.
So, after all this scientific mumbo jumbo, what do we learn from all these facts?
1) Gum containing Xylitol as its main sweetening ingredient, is definitely the gum of choice. They are hard to find in variety stores and supermarkets. Health food stores and online stores carry a wide range of xylitol containing gum. Each piece generally contains approximately 1 gram of xylitol, so chewing 2 pieces four times a day is the ideal amount. The pieces should be chewed for a minimum of 15 minutes. Each piece costs approximately 10-12 cents which is comparable to other brands of chewing gum. Brand names include Spry, Epic, Xponent, ElimiTaste, Zapp
2) Xylitol is highly toxic to dogs so keep it away from your pets.
3) The act of chewing is beneficial to oral health as it stimulates saliva production which helps to protect tooth enamel.
4) Gum containing sugar will definitely cause tooth decay
5) Definitely read the label of ingredients on your favourite chewing gum
6) The first sweetener listed on the label is the main sweetener. The second one listed has a less significant amount present.
7) Aspartame has enough potential harmful side effects to make you think twice about wanting to consume it. If you are an avid gum chewer and experience headaches or depression, read the ingredients on your favourite brand of gum. It may be a contributing factor.
8) Although sorbitol is less harmful than aspartame, as little as 5 pieces can cause stomach distress in some people.
9) Sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol do contain some calories, although much less than sugar.
10) Trident Xtracare contains Recaldent which is proven to help remineralize enamel by increasing a form of calcium that can penetrate enamel to help prevent and reverse tooth decay. Unfortunately, this gum also contains aspartame. 2 pieces of this gum are required 4 times a day for the desired benefits. I would think twice before consuming 8 pieces of gum which contains aspartame!!!! When Trident decides to replace the aspartame with a sufficient amount of xylitol in its Xtracare chewing gum, it will be the best gum available!!!!
Bottom Line - any sugar-free gum is acceptable if only 1 or 2 pieces a day are consumed, but if you are a serious gum chewer and are looking for the best gum for your oral health that is not harmful to your body - xylitol is the answer!!!!! Check your health food store or go online.