. Gum: to Chew or Not to Chew? -- 1-800-DENTIST®

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Is Chewing Gum Good for Your Teeth?

Chewing sugar-free gum after meals can increase the flow of tooth-protecting saliva.

It has been estimated that the average American chews 300 pieces of gum each year. All that chewing has led many of us -- and some researchers -- to wonder whether gum is harmful or beneficial to our oral health.

Chewing gum has been popular since the time of the ancient Greeks, who chewed a tree sap called mastiche. Ancient Mayans chewed a different sap called tsiclte. European settlers that came to New England got in the habit of chewing spruce sap after it was introduced to them by Native Americans.

Though we have come a long way from the days of chewing tree sap, the basic idea remains the same. Modern gum is made from a synthetic base to which sweetener, softener, flavoring and coloring is added.

The most significant threat that gum can pose to your teeth is the heightened risk of tooth decay due to sugar. Chewing gum that is made with sugar creates an ideal situation for tooth decay to occur as the acids that break down your tooth enamel thrive on the sugar released from the gum. Lucky for us, the most significant advancement in the realm of modern gum chewing and our oral health has been the development of sugar-free gum.

You will be relieved to know that with the sugar issue out of the way, chewing sugar-free gum can actually promote good oral health! Chewing gum causes your mouth to produce more saliva. The increased saliva flow helps to clean teeth by washing away debris and can actually strengthen enamel because it is rich in minerals that can be absorbed by your teeth.

According to the American Dental Association, chewing sugar-free gum for 20 minutes following a meal is the best way to take advantage of these oral health benefits. If you want to make sure that your gum is going the extra mile, look for the ADA Seal on the packaging, which indicates that the gum company has presented scientific evidence linking the chewing of their gum to better oral health.

You might also be wondering about the many teeth whitening gums that are on the market today. These contain low doses of chemical tooth whitening agents. Though these tooth whiteners may be able to lighten the color of teeth, only a small amount of whitener is present in the gum. As a result, the change may be very slight, making regular use necessary to ensure that your teeth have prolonged exposure to the tooth whitening product. Even if a gum is not marketed as ''whitening,'' increased saliva flow from gum chewing can prevent future tooth discoloration by washing away staining agents.

Though chewing gum is no replacement for cleaning teeth the old fashioned way with flossing and brushing, it can be a great way to keep your teeth clean and your breath fresh between meals when you are on the go. Your teeth are most vulnerable right after eating, so time your gum chewing accordingly!

Remember, your dentist is your best advisor when it comes to maintaining good oral health so you should speak with your dentist about your oral hygiene routine to make sure your teeth stay healthy and beautiful! If you don't have one, let us help match you with a pre-screened dentist in your area!

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