On a regular basis we hear professors tell us how chewing gum can lead to cavities and poor oral health. I constantly hear a specific professor yell out, “I can’t believe I see so many of you future dentists chewing gum!” Chewing gum has been proven to increase brain function and overall cognitive thinking as well as suppress appetite. Now, there is an even better reason why we should all be chewing it.
Research has been conducted and published in PLOS One that states that chewing gum can remove almost as much intra-oral bacteria as brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing regularly. Flossing does remove these bacteria in different areas of the mouth than chewing gum, but one stick of gum can remove up to 100 million bacteria in 10 minutes! That is roughly 10% of the total salivary load. These bacteria are the ones that cause dental caries, and once you remove the gum, the bacteria are eliminated from the field. The gum does have to be sugarless or contain artificial sweeteners to work (sugared gum can actually feed the intra-oral bacteria that cause tooth decay).
Most chewing gums are loaded with sweeteners, flavors and other agents. Today, artificial sweeteners such as xylitol, mannitol and sorbitol are replacing sugar in gums. These sweeteners have been proven to reduce the formation of oral biofilms that cause dental decay, gum disease and periodontal disease. Having these sweeteners in the chewing gums in this study most likely improves the amount of the bacteria seen on the gums once they are removed from the mouth.
The research was conducted at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. Two researchers tested two types of sugarless chewing gum. They chewed the gum at various lengths from 30 seconds to 10 minutes, and then spit them out into sterile water. The gums were analyzed, and the researchers discovered that the longer the gum was chewed, the more bacteria that were removed from the mouth. However, when the gum was chewed for longer periods of time, the adhesiveness decreased, and fewer bacteria were removed. The researchers stated that the gum is most effective in the first 30 seconds of chewing.
We are constantly seeing manufacturers adding ingredients to chewing gums that can remineralize enamel, decrease tooth decay, and reduce plaque and gingivitis. Fluorides, herbals and antimicrobials such as chlorhexidine can increase the chewing gums’ cleaning abilities. The researchers from the Netherlands hope that future studies will help them improve other aspects of dental health. They hope that one day they will develop chewing gum that can eliminate bacteria that cause health-related diseases of the oral cavity.
This study does show that chewing gum could possibly have the same advantage as brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing regularly. However, the American Dental Association makes it very clear that this should not replace these vital procedures. They recommend brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste to remove plaque from the tooth surface and flossing regularly to remove these bacteria from between the teeth.
So, next time your professor scolds you for chewing gum around campus and clinic, tell them to come chew on this post, because it’ll give you a good, clean feeling, no matter what.
~Caitlin Coracy, South Carolina ’16