It has been a long-held belief that chewing gum can help clean your teeth, especially after a meal. It makes sense that the act of chewing increases saliva flow, which washes away food and other debris, and also neutralizes acids produced by bacteria. That is true, but it’s the type of gum that you chew that determines whether it’s helpful or harmful to your teeth.
First and foremost, if you chew a gum that contains sugar, you’re actually increasing your chances of developing a cavity, so it’s important to stick to the sugar-free kinds. There’s clinical evidence that chewing sugar-free gum after meals and snacks definitely helps rinse off and neutralize the acids. Both the act of chewing and the flavor of the gum increases saliva flow up to ten times the normal rate.
What’s even better is sugar-free gum that is sweetened with xylitol. Xylitol is a naturally occurring alcohol found in most plant material, including many fruits and vegetables. It is extracted from birch wood to make medicine and is widely used as a sugar substitute. Sugar-free gum sweetened with xylitol has the added benefit of inhibiting the growth of Streptococcus mutans, one of the oral bacteria that cause cavities. In the presence of xylitol, the bacteria lose the ability to adhere to the tooth, stunting the cavity-causing process. With xylitol use over a period of time, the types of bacteria in the mouth change and fewer decay-causing bacteria survive on tooth surfaces.
Look for chewing gum with the ADA Seal because you can be sure it’s sugarless. All gums with the ADA Seal are sweetened by non-cavity causing sweeteners such as aspartame, xylitol, sorbitol or mannitol.
For most people, chewing sugar-free gum (especially gum sweetened with xylitol) can be a good preventive measure when you can’t stop to brush and floss, but sugar-free or not, chewing gum should never replace good dental hygiene practices. The ADA still recommends brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and cleaning your teeth once a day with dental floss.