Sugar-free gum — Is it bad for me?

Dear Alice,

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

Dear Reader,

Whether leaves, waxes, or sweet grasses, humans have been chewing on natural materials for many years. Consider nibbling on this: in general, chewing sugar-free gum presents more health benefits than health risks. The risks associated with the “chemicals” (i.e., artificial sweeteners) added to many sugar-free gums are minimal, and there isn’t conclusive evidence to suggest that artificial sweeteners such as xylitol (the main sweetener found in sugar-free gum) are unsafe. However, frequent gum-chewers who prefer their gum with sugar may experience unwelcome side effects, since sugared gums have been associated with higher rates of tooth decay and damage. However, there's plenty more information to chew on about the benefits of sugar-free gum.

While sugar-free gum doesn’t contain sugar, it does have the artificial sweetener xylitol. Xylitol (like the other -tols, sorbitol and mannitol) is a sugar alcohol often used to replace sugar to sweeten foods. This particular substance is naturally found in berries, fruits, vegetables, and mushrooms. So, why is it good for teeth? Because it can’t be broken down into the acids that wear away teeth, xylitol actually works to prevent plaque by blocking bacteria from sticking to them. It also actively works to replace the minerals in tooth enamel, so it’s recommended to chew sugar-free gum within 30 minutes of finishing a meal. Chewing after eating may be particularly effective since the gum boosts saliva production and flow, which helps to wash away food particles from the teeth in addition to washing away the digestive acids.

Chewing any type of gum serves as a way to exercise the jaw and neck, to prevent teeth clenching, and to keep the mouth occupied without consuming excessive amounts of food. Sugar-free gum may also help to satisfy cravings for sugary foods and beverages. Those who "chews" sugar-free may experience many benefits from the increase in saliva production and the decrease in bacteria adhesion and plaque development, including:

  • Fewer dental caries (cavities)
  • Fresher breath
  • Increased enamel mineralization
  • Reduction in gingivitis, tooth staining, and dry mouth

The American Dental Association actively promotes the chewing of sugar-free gum as they've noted it's safe for oral tissues and improves overall oral health. It’s worth noting that sugar-free gum isn't a substitute for consistent and thorough brushing and flossing, and excessive gum chewing (whether sugar-free or not) does present certain risks, since chewing gum with too much force might lead to temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD), a painful condition that affects the jaw, face, neck, and back.

Here’s to better breath, less stress, and oral hygiene habits that stick. Happy chewing!

Last updated Mar 15, 2019
Originally published Dec 07, 2012

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