Chewing gum is a soft, rubbery substance that is chewed for pleasure of for freshening the breath. It is not digestible and is not designed to be swallowed. The first commercial chewing gum appeared in 1848. Have you ever stopped to ask yourself what’s in that pellet or stick you’re casually popping into your mouth?
Often gum recipes are kept top secret but general ingredients include:
- Base – a mixture of elastomers, natural and/or synthetic resins, fats and emulsifiers. Natural elastomers have been swapped out today for synthetic ones including polyisobutylene and butyl rubber.
- Fillers – used to give gum texture including calcium carbonate or talc.
- Softeners – to keep in moisture and stop hardening. Usually a wax like paraffin or vegetable oils.
- Sweeteners – cane sugar, sucrose, beet sugar and corn syrup. Sugar-free gums use xylitol or artificial sweeteners like aspartame.
- Preservatives – to extend shelf life such as butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT).
- Flavourings – to give flavour and can be natural or synthetic.
All ingredients used must be ‘food grade’ and are considered to be safe. Nonetheless, some of the controversial ingredients include BHT (limited evidence suggests a link to cancer), titanium dioxide (may lead to nervous system and organ damage in rats) and aspartame (may have links to headaches, obesity and cancer). Further evidence is required for these claims.
How does chewing gum affect my oral health?
Chewing gum was originally sweetened with sugar which led to a rise in dental decay. This is pretty obvious as the sugar is kept in close contact with the teeth for a prolonged period of time. This was pretty unsupportive for oral health. New kids on the block in the form of artificial sweeteners have served us as substitutes.
Evidence indicates that chewing sugar-free gum increases salivary flow which removes food debris and plaque (sugar and bacteria) from teeth. In addition, chewing xylitol gum for 2-3 weeks reduces the growth of bacteria in the mouth. This in turn reduces dental decay.
Some studies actually advise chewing xylitol sweetened gum as a preventative measure for dental decay.
Due to the action of chewing, the muscles of the mouth can be on overdrive and the jaw joint can be adversely affected. This could mean pain and tenderness of the muscles of the face and the temporomandibular joints that connect the jaw bones to the skull.
Many of us today pop that pellet to freshen our breath. Whilst this can be a ‘quick fix’ it does not address the underlying cause of the issue which may range from poor oral hygiene to a problem within the gut or body.
How does chewing gum affect my overall health?
Some studies show that chewing gum can improve alertness, memory, understanding and decision making when carrying out tasks. Stress reduction has been reported in students whilst chomping. There are mixed reports that chewing gum helps with weight loss but more research is needed.
As sugar-free gum is loaded with sugar alcohols (such as xylitol) which are also fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols (FODMAPs) they can have a laxative effect and cause digestive issues for those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Chewing gum may also be linked to headaches.
If you’re a chewer, check out the ingredients list first. Look out for sugars including sucrose and avoid the xylitol if you have IBS.
Until next time, keep smiling.
- Cloys LA, Christen AG, Christen JA (1992). The development and history of chewing gum. Bull Hist Dent 40:57- 65. Creanor S