Is Gum Bad for You?
Chewing gum will freshen up your breath before a date or a post-lunch business meeting, but is it healthy for you?
A quick Google search turns up some conflicting advice. Some people swear by gum’s cavity-preventing abilities, while others tell you spit it in the trash and never look back.
So who’s right? Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
The answer depends on several factors, including the type of gum you choose and your body’s unique response to it. I’ll help you decide if gum is a good option for you.
How Gum Can Help You
According to the ADA, sugar-free gum can help prevent cavities. (If you choose to chew, I strongly recommend avoiding gum sweetened with actual sugar. Try gum sweetened with 100% xylitol, a natural sweetener which contains no sugar or aspartame, and may even provide some natural protection against cavities.)
Chewing increases saliva production, which washes away food particles and acids left in your mouth from food, and ever-present oral bacteria which cause cavities and gum disease. The ADA suggests chewing sugarless gum for 20 minutes after meals.
So, yes, gum has its perks, but even sugar-free gum isn’t for everyone.
How Gum Can Hurt You
Many people experience unpleasant side effects without realizing gum is the culprit. Here are a few common ones:
1. Unhealthy Eating Habits
Gum (especially mint gum) might actually cause unhealthy food cravings and make you less likely to want fruit, according to a recent study. That’s because it can make fruits and veggies taste bitter, making you disinclined to eat them.
Photo: David Lenker
So if you use gum to keep hunger at bay, it might be doing you more harm than good.
Chewing gum can trigger or worsen symptoms of TMD.
Temporomandibular disorders (TMD) are problems with your jaw joint or surrounding muscles. Sufferers of TMD experience jaw pain, headaches, and pain in the face, neck, or shoulders. You’ll find a more complete list of symptoms here.
If you think you might have TMD or other jaw problems, talk to your doctor or dentist, and avoid gum in the meantime.
Researchers found a correlation between frequent gum chewing and headaches in teenagers. If you get headaches, they might be TMD-related, but some people get them from aspartame, a common artificial sweetener in gum.
4. Gastrointestinal Problems
If you are inadvertently swallowing excess air when you chew gum, you might be suffering from abdominal pains, cramping, or bloating.
And artificial sweeteners like sorbitol and mannitol occasionally cause diarrhea. Take a break from gum to see if it might be the reason for your digestive distress.
Gum is fine for some people. But if your gum is causing you any kind of pain or discomfort, its potential benefits are not worth it. There are better ways to protect your teeth and keep your breath fresh. Here are a few.
Care Without Gum
The best way to keep your teeth clean and your breath fresh is to brush and floss regularly. Also thoroughly rinse with water after eating.
Make sure you drink plenty of water to help your body produce more saliva on its own.
Eating the right foods can also help. For example, milk and cheese naturally increase saliva production, and they’re good for tooth enamel too. Tea, yogurt, parsley, and many other foods ward off bad breath.
If you have persistent bad breath that won’t go away with diligent oral care, check out my post on halitosis and make an appointment with your dentist.
Ready to Go Without Gum?
If you’re a regular gum chewer, quitting can be tough. Here are some tips:
Remove gum from your car, pockets, or purse. (Avoid temptation!)
If you use gum to curb your snack cravings, switch to green tea. It tastes great and offers numerous health benefits. Just be sure to rinse your mouth with water after drinking to minimize stains on your teeth.
Satisfy your urge to chew with healthy snacks like nuts, apples, and veggies.
Carry a small toothbrush and toothpaste with you. Try these on-the-go brushes from Colgate, or look in the travel section of your local store.
Hang in there and give it time. Quitting gum is like breaking any habit. It will get easier, and eventually, you won’t even want it anymore.
So there you have it. Moderate gum chewing is great for some people, but can be problematic for others. I hope this post helped you decide whether or not gum is for you.
Do you chew gum every day? Or never touch the stuff? Let me know in the comments.