It may surprise you to think of chewing gum as the sort of thing that can make your teeth healthier. After all, isn't it mostly made of sugar, the very substance that causes cavities? That's certainly true for many types of gum. But once you remove sugar from the equation, the act of chewing a piece of gum can have surprising benefits for your teeth.
According to the American Dental Association (ADA), chewing sugarless gum for 20 minutes after you eat can help prevent tooth decay. Bacteria in the plaque on your teeth break down the food you eat, which in turn produces acids that can break down tooth enamel. The act of chewing produces more saliva, which helps to wash these acids away and keep your teeth stronger and whiter.
And that's just the average piece of gum. Some packs carry the ADA Seal of Acceptance, which is proof that an independent body of experts known as the ADA Council on Scientific Affairs has ruled the gum objectively as safe and effective. Gum makers earn the seal by meeting the following criteria:
- The gum must not be harmful to oral tissues.
- The gum must demonstrate its claims of promoting oral health, such as restoring tooth enamel or reducing plaque, cavities, or gingivitis.
- The above must be proven in laboratory and clinical studies conducted by the manufacturer on human test subjects.
Perhaps you've seen a particular type of gum that claims to strengthen your teeth or make your mouth cleaner. How can you tell if there's anything to those claims? Often, you just need to look at the list of ingredients. For example, studies have shown that a naturally occurring sweetener known as xylitol works to reduce bacteria in your mouth that can cause cavities. Some manufacturers like to promote the percentage of xylitol in their gums, so you know that the thing that makes it sweet is all-natural and useful.
[RELATED: What toll does sugar really take on your teeth? Find out here!]
Another substance, a naturally occurring protein called casein phosphopeptide-amorphous calcium phosphate (CPP-ACP), typically known as Recaldent, remineralizes tooth enamel and makes it harder. You might recognize casein is the main protein present in milk and other dairy products. Chewing a piece of Recaldent-rich gum has a similar effect to biting into a piece of cheese. Mondelez International, the maker of Trident, promotes Recaldent as "an advanced way to extend your care beyond the chair."
With the right mix of ingredients, chewing gum can be much more than just a type of candy. We should emphasize that we're talking about sugarfree gum, which uses artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sorbitol. To date, the ADA has not awarded its seal to any variety of gum containing sugar. Many popular brands have earned the ADA Seal of Acceptance for their sugar-free gums, including the following:
- ICE BREAKERS
So, when you're in line at the grocery store and you're tempted by the gum selection, think about what might help your teeth instead of hurting them. Just don't get too excited: You still need to brush and floss your teeth regularly. The ADA is very clear that chewing gum can be a good part of an oral health regimen. Even the best sugar-free variety is no substitute for fluoride toothpaste and dental floss. But if you're looking for an oral health boost beyond white teeth and fresh breath, it might do you more good to pop a piece of gum than you thought.