Is it good or bad for you? – Cleveland Clinic
Chewing gum is harmless, right? In fact, you may have even heard somewhere that it’s actually good for your teeth.
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But dentist Karyn Kahn, DDS, urges you to think twice before unwrapping the next piece of gum. It turns out that gum can pose serious risks to your jawbone and teeth.
Is chewing too much gum bad for your jaw?
Your jaw movement happens at your temporomandibular joints, located in front of each ear. A network of muscles supports this joint. Muscles pull your jaw together so you can chew and move your jaw from side to side.
Usually, you chew to break food into small pieces that you can swallow. With chewing gum, however, you chew just to…chew. Dentists consider chewing gum to be parafunctional or outside of normal function.
“Parafunctional habits, such as chewing gum, can cause temporomandibular disorders or worsen existing conditions,” says Dr. Kahn.
Constant chewing of gum puts excessive force on your temporomandibular joints, muscles, and teeth, resulting in overload, imbalance, and misalignment. This can lead to :
- Click or jump in one or both temporomandibular joints.
- Jaw pain.
- Tooth fracture.
“For some people, even a small change in their temporomandibular joint can cause severe pain when they move their jaw,” says Dr. Kahn.
Anyone with a temporomandibular disorder (sometimes just called TMJ) should avoid gum altogether, says Dr. Kahn. For everyone else, she recommends limiting gum chewing to less than 15 minutes a day to avoid causing problems.
Sugar in gum can cause tooth decay
Gum sales began in the United States in the mid-1800s and quickly became widespread. In the 1920s, Americans chewed an average of 105 pieces of gum a year.
Early on, manufacturers realized that adding flavorings and sugar to gum increased its appeal. But in the 1950s, dentists realized that added sugar caused tooth decay.
Tooth decay occurs because bacteria in your mouth break down sugar into acid. The acid eats away at the hard surface of your tooth enamel, a process that creates holes in the enamel and pathways for bacteria to infect the dentin layer and pulp tissues of your teeth. Eventually, as your tooth decays, it may need to be root canaled to save it.
Are there any benefits to chewing gum?
To promote better oral health, the first sugar-free gummies appeared on the market in the 1960s.
Sugar-free gum contains artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, stevia, xylitol and sorbitol which do not contribute to tooth decay. In fact, research suggests that chewing sugar-free gum may have some benefits.
For example, chewing gum triggers the production of saliva, which improves oral health by removing leftover food and neutralizing acids produced by bacteria in your mouth.
But Dr. Kahn cautions against chewing gum as a replacement for regular brushing after meals or for other oral health habits. “The best way to keep your teeth healthy is to brush your teeth after every meal and floss daily,” she says.
Gum can help with dry mouth (but may not be the best way)
Dry mouth, or xerostomia, is a common condition that occurs when your mouth doesn’t produce enough saliva. This can cause bad breath and eventually tooth decay.
“Gum increases saliva production, but frequent gum chewing probably isn’t the best way to treat dry mouth,” Dr. Kahn notes. Frequent sips of water can be just as effective. And there are medications you can take to increase your natural saliva production.
Your healthcare provider can help you find the underlying cause of your dry mouth and help prevent it or develop a plan to reduce your symptoms.
There is no evidence that chewing gum relieves stress
Many people swear by the gum to help them feel calmer, focus during a test, or resist a tempting snack. But the scientific evidence is mixed. There is no concrete evidence that gum has any significant effect on your mental health, grades, or weight.
If you think chewing gum helps you in some aspect of your life, Dr. Kahn suggests you consider weighing those benefits against the potential negative side effects of chewing gum. Look for other ways to relieve stress and improve your concentration.
Nicotine gum can help you quit smoking
Quitting smoking is one of the most important things you can do to improve your health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that in 2020 about 12% of American adults still smoked. Many people who smoke try to quit but fail.
Nicotine gum is one strategy people use to help quit smoking. It is not a chewing gum that you continuously chew. You chew a little to release some nicotine, then place it between your cheek and your gumline, repeating this process for about 30 minutes. Some of the oral side effects include:
- Excess saliva.
- Jaw pain.
- Mouth irritation.
Although nicotine gum is intended for temporary use, Dr. Kahn advises caution and suggests combining or replacing nicotine gum with other smoking cessation strategies such as coaching, nicotine patches, non-nicotine medications, etc.
Is gum bad for you? The bottom line
Contrary to the old joke, most people can walk and chew gum at the same time. But that doesn’t mean you should. Chewing gum can cause serious jaw and tooth problems.
Dr. Kahn shares these important tips for reducing your risk of gum-related problems.
- Avoid gum if you have jaw problems. If you have experienced TMJ dysfunction or are beginning to experience popping, popping, or pain in your jaw, you should not chew gum. If these problems are new, see your dentist.
- Limit your gum chewing. No jaw problem? Let’s keep it that way. Dr. Kahn says you shouldn’t chew gum for more than about 15 minutes a day.
- Sugar free only! If you must chew gum, stick to the sugar-free variety. Sweet gum should be banned.
- Maintain good oral hygiene. Dr. Kahn cautions against chewing gum as a replacement for regular brushing after meals or for other oral health habits. “If you’re going to chew gum after meals, that should be in addition to — not instead of — brushing and flossing,” she says.