The bane of teachers, restaurant managers, and sidewalk pedestrians everywhere, chewing gum carries a bad rap with a lot of people. Spending a few frustrating minutes scrapping a piece off the bottom of a shoe, or trying to cut a chunk out of a child’s hair without it appearing like a you send the kid to a one-eyed barber, can leave even the most ardent gum chewers feeling less than bubblelicious.
Gum became such a public nuisance in Singapore that government officials implemented a nation wide ban on the import and sale of most types of gum. Disneyland may be the happiest place on earth, but gum chewers better come prepared since they won’t find any available at the theme park’s gift shops. Least you think Uncle Scrooge now runs the place, Universal Studios, Seaworld, and Busch Gardens have all spearheaded the same kind of ban against spearmint as Mickey and the gang.
Despite these attempts at banning gum, there seems to be something about the lip smacking, bubble popping substance that has attracted people for millenniums. Archeologists uncovered evidence that indicates the practice of chewing gum dates back over 5,000 years. In another example of people sticking their gum where others will find it, archeologist uncovered gum made from birch bark tar in Kierikki and Ili-li, Finland that dates back to the Neolithic period. The ancient Aztecs and Greeks, along with American Indian tribes, all chewed gum made from such substances as resin, chicle, tree sap and other various plants and grasses.
What ancient man did not know was that every time they started chewing, they were helping to protect their teeth. The act of chewing gum causes an increase in the flow of saliva in the chewer’s mouth. Chewing after eating can help to wash away and neutralize acids produced when the bacteria in plaque begins to break down recently food recently consumed. Over time, this acid can destroy tooth enamel, helping to create the conditions needed for tooth decay.
Increased saliva also carries more calcium and phosphate into a person’s mouth, which helps strengthen tooth enamel. Several clinical studies have determined that chewing sugarless gum after a meal can help prevent tooth decay. Sugar-free gum made with the artificial sweetener xylitol can help to reduce cavities and plaque, according to a study released in the Journal of the American Dental Association. Xylitol helps to prevent the formation of Streptococcus mutans, a bacteria that significantly contributes to tooth decay.
Not all gums are created equal when it comes to preventing tooth decay, however. Many brands of gum contain high levels of sugar, and are not much different than candy. To find a gum that can help protect your teeth, look for the American Dental Association’s seal of approval. Any gum carrying the seal has been shown to either reduce plaque acids, promote the remineralization of enamel, or help fight gingivitis, while also being safe on oral tissue. Currently, only gums without sugar carry the ADA seal.
While chewing gum doesn’t replace the need to brush and floss at least twice a day, it can provide your teeth with one more weapon in the war against tooth decay and gum disease. Just remember to properly dispose of your gum once finished chewing, and don’t let your healthy teeth become someone else’s sticky feet.