Can Chewing Gum Really Prevent Cavities?
Browsing the grocery store confectionery aisles/shelves (yes, funny: we realize how ironic it may seem as we're dental professionals - but alas, we like sweets too!), it seems as though the chewing gum section has grown since the last time any of us were here. Grape-flavoured, peppermint, spearmint, double-mint, strawberry, 'intense' mint, and whatever 'bubble gum flavoured' means....It's all designed to please the palate, for sure - but you may have seen the claims that they help protect teeth or they help prevent cavities and may have wondered if there was any truth to it.
Well, not all chewing gum is created equal! And one thing is certain, you do want to stay away from any containing sugars - that means it's a good idea to avoid any products sugar on the ingredients label, as well as any with corn syrup, dextrose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, fructose, etc. It's just a bad idea to have damaging sugars in your mouth for an extended period of time - and as a side note - these are usually not the products with dental benefits written on their packing!
Another factor to consider is if there is any acidic flavouring added to your chewing gum. Unfortunately, acid can damage your teeth, even if it does contain some of the seemingly protective ingredients we will be discussing below. See how they cancel each other out in this research. Although they mentioned that more research should be conducted, it's a good idea to err on the side of caution and minimize acid exposure on teeth - not just in chewing gums, but beverages containing acidic ingredients.
But we digress. So what about those other chewing gums with a CDA (Canadian Dental Association) seal of approval? These are usually the sugar-free varieties and often get their flavours from sugar alcohols, that may not have the same damaging effects on dental enamel as 'regular' sugars.
For example, it is suggested that the sugar alcohol, xylitol not only doesn't harm enamel, but may help prevent cavities by reducing the amount of harmful bacteria. One study said to take this information with a grain of salt though, because most chewing gums do not list the amount of xylitol content. You can read that clinical study here.
In another study, xylitol was also said to help reduce the production of inflammatory plaque - which can help keep your oral environment healthy. They went one step further and suggested that there may be some properties of xylitol that help remineralize teeth! If you've seen erythritol on the package, it also packs a punch and when used together with xylitol may work better at protecting teeth than either one used separately.
Chewing sugar-free gum can also increase the amount of saliva produced - this makes it harder for debris to stick onto your teeth and do damage.
To close, one important note to add is: the effects may depend on the strains of bacteria playing in your mouth and how they interact with the sugars/sugar alcohols you're taking in. In the case of xylitol, the thinking is that the the bacteria in your mouth doesn't readily ferment it - which means they can't produce acid and damage your teeth that way. Sorbitol can be metabolized by some bacterial strains - and thus, create some acids that could damage teeth and it is considered a low-risk cavity causing agent rather than a no-risk.
And one final, final note: chewing gum doesn't replace brushing and flossing, so remember to keep up the good habits by brushing 2 minutes, twice a day and floss at least once a day.