If you ask several people whether chewing gum is good for your health or detrimental to it, you are likely to get several different answers. This is because chewing gum is a mixed bag when it comes to your dental and overall health. In order to answer this important question, we’ll need to explore several different aspects of how chewing gum affects both your mouth and your body as a whole.
In the United States, 59% of the population regularly uses chewing gum. This number is higher only in Iran (82%) and Saudi Arabia (79%)! The reason for the rates being higher in the Middle East is the presence of a cultural tradition where small merchants routinely hand out chewing gum in place of small change.
Now that we know the basic facts and statistics on chewing gum, let’s examine some of the specific potential health effects of chewing gum in a bit more detail:
Many people don’t give much thought to the ingredients in the gum they chew simply because the gum base itself is never swallowed. However, your teeth and gums are still exposed to these ingredients, and you do in fact swallow many of the flavor ingredients as the gum is chewed and the flavor causing ingredients are extracted by the chewing process.
Your mouth lining is also very absorbent, and many of the ingredients are able to be absorbed directly through them.
A great deal of sugar-free gum is sweetened with a common sugar substitute called Aspartame. One study which appeared in the Life Sciences Journal concluded that Aspartame may help create formaldehyde in the body, which is a known carcinogen. Some people claim to have experienced side effects such as headaches, dizziness and mood swings after consuming Aspartame, though the FDA and American Cancer Society have not issued any official warnings about it except for people who lack the necessary enzyme to break it down.
The tempromandibular joint, or TMJ, is the place where your jawbone attaches to your skull. TMJ disorders result from the muscles which control this join becoming fatigued or unbalanced. While most gum chewing does not cause TMJ disorders, people who develop a regular gum chewing habit can experience muscle fatigue which places them at risk of TMJ disorders. Aggressive gum chewing or lopsided chewing (chewing only on one side of the mouth) both increase the risk of developing TMJ disorders, as these behaviors are more stressful on the TMJ area than others.
Chewing gum on a regular basis as a habit can also lead to excessive wear on the tooth enamel, and even lead to changes in your bite alignment. Specifically, the upper molars may spread apart gradually, while the lower molars begin to gradually drift backward leading to an overbite. If the behavior continues and is left unchecked, these changes can eventually lead to the need for orthodontic care to correct them. Additionally, if the enamel is allowed to gradually wear down, the teeth may become sensitive to hot or cold foods and beverages, or acidic foods.
Some gum chewers, especially younger people such as teens in high school have experienced headaches as a result of excessive gum chewing. This is a result of the jaw muscles becoming fatigued. These headaches are usually the result of a student chewing gum as a way of dealing with stress, such as when studying for or taking an important test. This stress tends to lead to chewing harder and faster as well, which further exacerbates the problem, leading to a tension headache.
Dentists generally recommend sugar-free gum. However, if you chew gum which is not sugar free, while you might avoid some of the potential pitfalls that come with artificial sweeteners (assuming only sugar is used and not a combination of artificial and natural sweeteners), you may put yourself at an increased risk of developing cavities due to exposing your teeth to sugar for a prolonged period of time. This risk is worsened if you develop a regular habit of chewing sugary gum.
Overall, if you chew sugar-free gum, it may even have a positive effect on your teeth in that it may help to prevent cavities by removing plaque and harmful bacteria from the surface of the teeth and gums. Just keep in mind that chewing gum in and of itself is not necessarily a healthy habit to develop, and it is one that may come with some pitfalls and risks that are worth considering.
If you just want to freshen your mouth, it is better to brush and floss your teeth or use mouthwash rather than to use chewing gum to clean them. A glass of cold water with mint leaves can also be a nice way to freshen your mouth up after a meal rather than chewing gum, especially if combined with brushing and mouthwash afterwards.
Your teeth are important, and they are the gateway to the rest of your body. It is important to care for them well and to pay attention to how the things you put in your mouth may affect the rest of your body.
Do you have any tips or suggestions for keeping a fresh mouth and breath? Feel free to share them in the comments below!