Chewing has been a necessary activity for humans since the beginning of time. Now, with the advent of mass-produced gum, mints, toothpicks and candy, chewing isn’t only something we do out of necessity. We also chew to freshen our breath and beat boredom.
A Little History
Until WWII, gum was made from a latex sap indigenous to Central America called “chicle.” It’s a form of rubber similar to what makes up a rubber band. Post-WWII, gum consumption skyrocketed. Tapping chicle from trees wasn’t fast enough. Producers needed a more sustainable base for the ever-popular chewing gum, so they switched to synthetic rubbers. When the synthetic rubber base is combined with sugar, sugar substitutes, or natural and artificial flavoring, it forms modern chewing gum.
Unfortunately, with the advent of gummy, crunchy treats that are chewed throughout the day, people started stressing out their jaws. Many of us chew gum and mints to keep our breath fresh. However, there are a handful of downsides to excessive chewing that can impact oral health long-term.
After the 1950s, consumers became more health conscious. The advent of sugar-free gum brought Xylitol into the picture. “Blammo” was the first commercial gum brand with a natural sweetener that replaced any use of “saccharine.”
Fast-forward to the 21st century. We have a variety of gums and mints to choose from in every flavor imaginable. What wasn’t accounted for when chewing gum first earned its popularity, though, was the impact it would have on consumers’ oral health: the side effects of excessive chewing.
Side Effects of Excessive Chewing
When someone chews gum daily for year, it’s not uncommon for them to develop a sore jaw due to uneven exercise and excessive chewing. This continued muscle imbalance could lead to Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, or TMJ. TMJ causes pain in the jaw, reoccurring headaches and toothaches that worsen over time.
On top of aches and pains in the jaw, there are longer lasting side effects of chewing gum too frequently. Chewing gum or mints that contain sugar will to compromise the health of your teeth. The mouth contains hundreds of bacteria. When specific oral bacteria feed on the sugars that are left on our teeth after eating or chewing sugary gum, they create acids that destroy the tooth enamel. Interestingly enough, the sugar doesn’t ruin your enamel. It’s the reaction that the sugar has with the bacteria in your mouth over time that causes the enamel to erode.
The bacterial infection that occurs after long-term enamel decay is known as a cavity. If left untreated, cavities can bury past the enamel and into the deeper layers of the tooth, causing pain and even tooth loss.
If you love to chew gum or eat mints, but these consequences just don’t sound worth it, find a sugar-free option! You can chew on sugar free gum and mints as long as you are cautious and brush regularly. Just remember, the chemicals replacing sugar in gum can also lead to dental erosion and cavities.
Aches and Pains
If oral health decay hasn’t turned you off of chewing mints and gum, these other downsides might. When you chew gum or mints for a prolonged period of time, the chewing motion signals your brain that you’re eating. The body then releases acids and enzymes to help digest that food. But, with no food actually in your stomach, the high amounts of acid create bloating, discomfort and an upset stomach. Meanwhile, while you’re chewing with no food, you’re sucking in air, adding to your serious stomachache.
According to a 2013 study done at the University of Buffalo, people who chew mint-flavored gum reduced their intake of fruit at their next meal, likely because the mint flavor in gum may cause fruits and vegetables to taste bitter. Additionally, they found that meals eaten after chewing gum were less nutritious. The gum showed an increase in the individual’s meal size.
For some, this is enough to stop chewing gum and mints and never look back. For others, it’s still a difficult habit to break. Thankfully, there are healthy alternatives for those who want to chew gum sparingly.
In moderation, chewing sugar-free gum after meals and snacks helps rinse food particles off the teeth and neutralize the acids released by bacteria in plaque. The act of chewing and the flavors help to stimulate ten times the normal rate of saliva, washing away food particles.
Prevention.com lists these brands as the safest chewing gum brands currently on the market:
- Train Gum
- Chicza Organic Rainforest Gum
- Simply Gum
- Xylichew – company claims it’s plastic- and preservative-free.
- Glee Gum – it’s the only non-GMO verified gum!
If you’re serious about oral health, replacing your gum or mint habit with more habitual teeth-brushing and flossing will save your jaw and enamel from the dangerous side effects of chewing.
While you’re studying, check out this recipe that is tasty and promotes oral health!