We all know how important oral health is, but have you ever considered sugar free gum to be part of your oral health routine? Not only can it be good for your gnashers, but it can have a range of other potential benefits, from alleviating dry mouth and helping with weight control, to enhancing productivity and boosting memory. Here’s a little look my experience with chewing gum and the myriad of possible positives that come with the tiny but mighty minty chews.
The Humble Little Sugar Free Chewing Gum
Sugar free gum (SFG) gets worldwide approval from dental associations, including the American Dental Association, for being safe and effective. It can be best seen as an additional tool alongside brushing, flossing and using mouthwash.
Sugar-free is of course better for your teeth than regular gum that’s sweetened with sugar. Sugar will perpetuate the “bad” bacteria in the mouth, which negatively affects your teeth and can lead to cavities.
There are of course a few less common but possible caveats, much like with anything. Sugar-free gum can contain sugar alcohols for sweetening the products, which can have a laxative effect when inordinate amounts are used. This just means gum should be used in moderation if it causes any digestive distress. For some people, too much chewing can also lead to TMD (temporomandibular disorder), where excessive chewing causes jaw pain.
How Chewing Sugar Free Gum Helps Me
I won’t sugar coat my experiences here or chew the fat for too long. Okay, enough of the bad one liners! Chronic illness can suck and sometimes even the conditions that don’t seem all that severe can have profound knock-on effects.
I have suspected Sjögren’s syndrome, so I experience dry eyes, nose and mouth. I’ve written previously about how I’d mistaken dry mouth for thirst and was drinking over 7L of fluid a day until one perilous afternoon when I nearly accidentally killed myself. In addition, I’ve struggled with my oral health as many of us have, with weakened enamel, cavities, staining and receding gums. I brush twice a day with good toothpaste, try to floss with interdental sticks and use a gum-specific mouthwash, but it’s important to keep your mouth happy throughout the day too.
To help deal with dry mouth and quench the thirst a little, I chew sugar free chewing gum most days at least once or twice. I also find it can give me a little boost mentally, to get me more motivated or more focused.
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Sugar Free Gum For Oral Health Benefits
The action of chewing a piece of gum generates saliva production, which has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. It’s this saliva that can help in raising the oral pH, which consequently neutralises plaque acids and encourages dental mineralisation.
A 2019 systematic review of prior research undertaken by the King’s College London’s Department of Dentistry found that participants who chewed SFG developed on average 28% fewer dental cavities compared to those who didn’t. This suggests that sugar free gum could be useful as an additional ‘preventative agent’ alongside toothbrushing to reduce the likelihood of dental tooth decay.
In particular, chewing gums with the sugar alcohol ingredient xylitol can be particularly effective at preventing tooth decay. This naturally-occurring sugar alcohol produces xylitol phosphate when it enters cells, which inhibits the cell growth of bacteria, referred to as biofilm. Chewing xylitol-sweetened gum can limit this biofilm generation and reduce the amount of this bad bacteria by as much as 75%, without disrupting the levels of good bacteria.
Alleviates Dry Mouth / Sjögren’s Syndrome
Thanks to the increased production of saliva, along with menthol for cooling, SFG can provide some relief for dry mouth, both occasional and chronic (xerostomia). Sjögren’s, an autoimmune condition that results in dry mouth, can lead to dental problems like plaque, cavities, periodontitis and gingivitis. Chewing sugar free gum can temporarily relieve dry mouth, and regular use can help in minimising the potential dental and gum damage caused by dryness.
Mighty Mint For The Body’s Defence System
Minty gum is flavoured with menthol, which could potentially support the body’s defence system. This naturally-occurring compound activates our olfactory receptors for smell (the minty scent) and the trigeminal somatosensory system (the cooling sensation).
Menthol-rich plant extracts have been used in Asian traditional medicine over centuries for respiratory conditions, while menthol can also help to soothe minor irritations in the throat. Menthol is also thought to alleviate nasal congestion by interacting with the cold-menthol-sensitive receptors located on trigeminal nerve endings.
Furthermore, research by Silva and colleagues has looked at particular components like eugenol and menthol to assess their role in the Covid pandemic. They’ve found that compounds like menthol have “binding affinities towards SARC-CoV-2 spoke protein”, as well as human ACE-2 proteins, main protease and RNA dependent RNA polymerase.
For Weight Control
Sugar free gum can satisfy oral cravings while being very low in calories, with some brands purporting to contain almost zero.
One study discovered that chewing gum after eating food at lunchtime was able to decrease both hunger and snacking later on in the day by approximately 10%. Another study in 2014 from Kresge et al suggested that chewing gum can increase a person’s metabolic rate, though not all studies support this sort of finding. However, some people successfully use chewing gum to prevent unwanted snacking, helping them to delay cravings just long enough for them to dissipate.
Chewing For Enhanced Productivity & Performance
Studies have shown that chewing gum can have beneficial effects on levels of alertness, productivity and attention. It’s thought that the motor activity involved in chewing enhances arousal that can otherwise be diminished by cognitive tasks.
An Aid To Quit Smoking
While nicotine gum is available, some individuals find ordinary sugar free gum is a cheaper but still effective option for keeping their mouths busy and minty fresh, which distracts from wanting the smokey taste of a cigarette.
A study by Cohens et al looked at 20 smokers who smoked a cigarette when they first arrived on the premises for the study. Subjects watched a movie and then were asked to wait a further 30 minutes. Half of the smokers were given access to chewing gum during this wait period and the other half weren’t. The researchers assessed nicotine withdrawal and concluded that chewing gum was able to reduce cravings and was beneficial in nicotine withdrawal when an individual was unable to smoke.
Chewing For Wellbeing & Stress-Reduction
The act of chewing gum, along with the instant taste infusion, can boost mood and help in reducing stress.
A study of university students found that two weeks of chewing gum reduced reported stress levels, especially stress concerning academic demands. The act of chewing itself may partly explain this as it has been linked to reduced stress hormones, such as cortisol.
In a controlled laboratory study, Andrew Scholey et al concluded that chewing gum was associated with a reduction in ‘acute’ anxiety, salivary cortisol and stress.
Mastication For Memory
Some research indicates that chewing (mastication) gum while undertaking a task can enhance numerous elements of cognitive function, including decision making, alertness, comprehension and memory.
One study from 2002 also discovered that both spatial and numerical working memory were improved among those who were chewing gum.
Another study by Scholey et al found that individuals who chewed gum throughout tests had scores 36% higher in long term memory and 24% higher in short term memory compared to those who didn’t use gum.
While the exact mechanisms behind memory improvement aren’t known, it’s thought that mastication (chewing) could boost blood flow in certain regions of the brain like the pronto-temporal areas. It’s also possible that chewing could encourage insulin release, in a process referred to as cephalic phase insulin release, which then enhances memory by means of central mechanisms.
A Few Surprises
While some potential benefits may seem fairly logical and common sense, there are a few studies suggesting more surprising benefits. For instance, studies have shown that patients chewing gum after surgery could help speed up their recovery time. Studies have also found that xylitol-sweetened chewing gum could help in preventing middle-ear infections (acute otitis media) among children.
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Clinical evidence and ongoing research highlights the many potential benefits our humble sugar free gum can have, not just for our oral health but for cognition, dry mouth conditions, smoking cessation, our body’s defence system, weight control and stress, among other things. More research is needed to clarify findings and delve a little deeper into the mechanisms behind the results, but it’s an exciting area of investigation. As with anything, balance is key and it’s possible to have too much of a good thing, so always use in moderation.
The next time you’ve had your dinner, you’re stressed, or you’re in need of a mental boost, you might want to reach for that sugar free gum!
Do you like sugar free chewing gum? Have you perhaps noticed it providing any of the benefits listed here?
[ This is a sponsored post written by myself. ]