Dear Alice,

Is it bad to chew sugar-free gum? I heard the chemicals in them are bad for you to ingest?

Dear Reader,

Humans have been chewing on natural materials for many, many years. Whether it was chewing on leaves, grains, waxes, or various types of sweet grasses, one thing is clear — humans sure do love to masticate. So, chew on this: In general, chewing sugar-free gum presents many more health benefits than health risks. The risks associated with the “chemicals” (i.e., artificial sweeteners) that are added to many sugar-free gums are minimal, at best. There just isn’t conclusive evidence to suggest that artificial sweeteners like aspartame are unsafe. Now, frequent gum-chewers who prefer their gum with sugar might run into trouble as sugared gums have been associated with higher rates of tooth decay and damage.

What, you say? You would like more on which to chew? Okay, here you go: Chewing gum is a great way to exercise the jaw and neck, prevent clenching your teeth, and keep your mouth occupied without consuming excessive amounts of food. Additionally, sugar-free gum can help you beat cravings for unhealthy sugary foods and beverages. Chewing sugar-free gum after eating is particularly effective because it boosts saliva production and flow, which helps to wash away digestive acids and food particles from the teeth. Additionally, sugar-free gum chewers benefit from fewer cavities, better breath, increased enamel mineralization, and less gingivitis, tooth staining, and dry mouth. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that the American Dental Association actively promotes sugar-free gum chewing because it is safe for oral tissues and actually improves oral health. Indeed, the University of York Health Economics Consortium found that if every member of the British population chewed sugar-free gum, the National Health Service would spend £100 million less on restorative dental care every year. Please keep in mind that chewing sugar-free gum should not be considered a substitute for consistent and thorough brushing and flossing. Nothing can replace those healthy habits.

Excessive sugar-free gum chewing (or any gum chewing for that matter) does present certain risks. Chewing gum with too much force can lead to temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD), a painful condition that affects the jaw, face, neck, and back. Additionally, chewing gum in various social environments such as the classroom or workplace can be distracting or irritating to others. Also, a significant amount of litter is attributed to chewing gum (both sugar-free and sugared) — something you are more than aware of if you’ve ever peeked underneath a table in a public space (or had a restaurant job where you had to scrape the stuff off).

There’s been some interesting research done on chewing gum, stress and health. In one study, researchers found that chewing gum (compared to not chewing gum) was associated with less consumption of alcohol, lower levels of work-related stress, higher levels of alertness, lower levels of depression, and lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It’s also interesting to note that the folks who chewed gum were more likely to be smokers when compared to their non-chewing counterparts. An oral fixation, perhaps?  

So, rest assured, dear reader, chewing sugar-free gum has many more health benefits than it does health risks (unless you are a really loud chewer and, in that case, you may lose a few friends, something that can prove detrimental to your health). Happy chewing!


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