As dentists, we’ll warn you away from sweet treats most of the time, but chewing gum is a surprising exception. That is, as long as it’s sugar-free. Yes, it’s true that sugar-free chewing gum is actually good for your teeth and can help prevent tooth decay. Not only that, some varieties may even strengthen your teeth.
Sugar-free gum has been shown to increase the production of saliva in the mouth. In addition to the action of chewing, this increase in saliva helps was away food particles that bacteria could feed on to cause tooth decay. Saliva naturally contains minerals that help strengthen teeth, so when there’s more of it, it follows that there are more enamel-hardening minerals too.
These days, it seems like most of the popular chewing gum brands have switched to being sugar-free. We assume that gum manufacturers are smart enough not to raise the ire of dentists. Most sugar-free gums contain one of three non-sugar sweeteners: aspartame, sorbitol, or xylitol. The first two don’t have any evidence of causing harm to teeth, but they don’t have any benefits either. On the other hand, recent studies suggest that xylitol may reduce the amount of bacteria in your mouth and strengthen teeth.
Most sugar-free gums will proudly proclaim they’re sugar free right on the packaging. Several brands also carry the American Dental Association (ADA) seal of approval. Any gum packaging that doesn’t proclaim it’s sugar-free probably isn’t. Be sure to take a look at the nutrition label when choosing gum. Bubble gum and retro 20th century gum brands that have been revived by candy makers are particularly notorious for being sugar-sweetened.
A note of caution: if you have TMD, a chronic painful condition in the jaw joint (called the temporomandibular joint or TMJ), chewing gum can aggravate symptoms. There is a rumor that chewing gum causes TMD, but there is no evidence showing a direct cause and effect as of yet.
There are other reasons to avoid chewing gum other than the possibility of tooth decay with sugar-sweetened brands. If you have braces or oral appliances such as removable bridges, partial dentures, or full dentures, gums can get stuck to them, causing a huge mess & possibly pulling them out of place. If you’re wondering whether chewing gum is a good idea given your particular dental condition, please feel free to ask the dentist.