Is Chewing Gum Bad For You?

healthy oral habit while chewing gum

While chewing gum may be a better alternative to smoking or other bad habits, it may also cause issues with your teeth and harm your overall dental health. This blog discusses how chewing sugary gum may affect your teeth and how to keep them healthy.

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Chewing gum is often touted as a healthy alternative to smoking or other bad habits. But if you don’t choose carefully which type of gum to use, chewing gum may have a negative effect on your dental health (and overall health). You have the power to decide if the pros outweigh the cons. Below, we delve into why chewing sugary gum may hurt your teeth and oral health.

Chewing Sugary Gum Can Cause Increased Bacterial Growth

Gum first began selling in the United States in the mid-1800s. Early manufacturers started adding sugar and flavoring to their products to increase their appeal, and it worked–by 1920, people were chewing as many as 105 sticks of gum each year. However, it took until the 1950s before dentists truly figured out the correlation between sugary gum and its role in tooth decay.

When you chew gum sweetened with sugar, you leave behind small amounts of sugar. Oral bacteria use these sugars to reproduce. The bacteria digest the sugar in the gum, producing acids that eat away at the enamel and protect the surface of your teeth. Once holes develop in the enamel, the bacteria gain a pathway to reach deeper layers of your teeth, resulting in cavities, more severe tooth decay, and gum disease. Left untreated, tooth decay and gum disease can cause many dental and other health problems. In fact, people with gum disease are at an increased risk for respiratory and cardiac diseases.

Chewing Sugary Gum Can Harm Dental Work

If you had braces as a teen, chewing gum was one of the cardinal sins. As an adult, this rule should still apply. Most adults have had some dental work, including fillings, crowns, or veneers. The materials used in these procedures are made to withstand a LOT of daily wear and tear, and they last for several years with the proper care. What they’re not made to do is be constantly ground on and pulled at by sticky gum.

When you chew gum, the jaw action creates pressure up to five times more than normal. If you’re wearing dentures, chewing gum could prompt them to come loose. Chewing gum can also cause brackets to loosen or even fall out if you have braces. By cutting down on your gum habit, you can save yourself the time, pain, and money of needing replacement dental work.

Chewing Gum Can Cause Temporomandibular Joint Issues

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is located just in front of your ears and is where your lower jawbone attaches to your skull. Approximately 5-12% of people have some type of TMJ dysfunction, and it shows up in some of the following ways:

  • Pain in your face, neck, or shoulders
  • Pain or stiffness in your jaw
  • Popping or clicking in your jaw
  • Difficulty opening and closing your mouth
  • Headaches (including migraines)
  • Earaches or running in your ears (tinnitus)
  • Bite issues (malocclusion)

TMJ issues can be caused by several things, some of which are out of your control. Jaw injuries, bruxism (teeth grinding and clenching), untreated malocclusion, and arthritis in your jaw can all result in problems with your TMJ.

Excessive or prolonged gum chewing can worsen already existing TMJ pain. Chewing gum causes the muscles controlling the temporomandibular joint to become fatigued. Aggressively chewing gum regularly places stress on the TMJ area, increasing your risk of developing TMJ issues.

What Is Chewing Gum Made Of?

Although recipes might vary among brands, all chewing gums share the same essential ingredients:

  • Resin
  • Fillers
  • Softeners
  • Sweeteners
  • Flavorings
  • Preservatives

Gum companies don’t share their proprietary recipes, so even if you don’t see the above ingredients listed, they’re in there–just hidden under the umbrella of “gum base.” While all ingredients are considered safe, some (like aspartame, Red Dye 40, and titanium dioxide) could be regarded as questionable. However, because these ingredients are used in minimal amounts in gum, there’s no concrete evidence that the health issues associated with them can be traced back to gum.

So, What Are My Gum Options?

If you must chew gum, sugarless gum is your best option. It helps clean food particles between teeth and stimulates saliva production, washing away bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease.

In fact, research has shown that sugar-free gum products containing xylitol help teeth by lowering the acidity levels in the mouth when chewed after mealtimes.

But remember that while chewing gum after meals is better than nothing, it still isn’t a proper replacement for brushing and flossing.

How Can I Keep My Teeth Healthy?

Everyone knows that brushing your teeth twice daily and flossing as often as you tell your dentist you do are the best ways to keep your teeth and gums healthy. But there are plenty of additional ways to ensure your teeth and gums stay healthy, including:

  • Regular visits to your dentist
  • Brushing regularly with an electric toothbrush
  • Using fluoride toothpaste
  • Flossing or using an interdental brush at least once a day
  • Staying hydrated to keep dry mouth at bay
  • Being aware of the sugar content in your food and drinks
  • Limiting sugary food and starches overall

The takeaway is that you don’t have to kick your gum habit completely. Just like everything else, moderation and being mindful of the type of gum you choose is vital.

Learn More About General Dentistry Services in San Diego

At La Jolla Cosmetic Dentistry & Orthodontics, we’re committed to providing quality general and cosmetic dentistry services to families throughout the San Diego area. Whether you need regular dental checkups or more specialized care such as dental implants, dental veneers, crowns, and bridges, Dr. Kohani and the expert staff at La Jolla Cosmetic Dentistry & Orthodontics are here to help.

To schedule your appointment, call us today at 858-295-0603 or complete our online contact form.