Gum and candy. You may be hearing your parents’ voices in your head at those words, warning you of the dire consequences for your teeth of consuming those sugary beasts. It’s true that there is a solid body of evidence linking heavy sugar consumption to dental caries. But, before you let those childhood visions of sugar demons destroy your enjoyment of all tiny treats, there’s some good news you should consider. It turns out there are some kinds of gum that are actually good for your teeth.
Sugar? Still no.
There are plenty of gum options out there that are terrible for overall tooth health. The retro super-sugary bubble gums of your youth are not going to improve tooth health and may be dangerous for it if used regularly. For the sake of your teeth, choose a sugar-free gum for your regular, everyday chewing.
All sugar-free gums are the same, right?
Not even remotely true. There are some significant differences between sugar-free gums, and they arise from the non-nutritive sweetener used. A sugar-free gum sweetened with xylitol, more than just not being bad for your teeth, can be actively good for your teeth.
Xylitol is a non-nutritive sweetener that naturally occurs in some fruits and vegetables and in birch trees. It does not get processed by the body like a regular sugar, which makes it unlikely to effect blood sugar levels or contribute to weight gain. Bacteria that live in the oral biofilm attempt to feed on xylitol, but the bacteria cannot use it for energy. Thus, by eating the xylitol, the bacteria starve to death, as opposed to when they eat plain sugar on which they thrive.
Is there any study supporting xylitol gum to improve dental health?
There are studies, including one that looked at the ways xylitol works to aid in dental health. Xylitol not only caused the bacteria to starve, it also made them less able to stick to teeth. Chewing xylitol gum also helps protect teeth by fighting dry mouth. Dry mouth greatly increases cavity risk, so chewing xylitol gum to prevent or treat dry mouth can knock down the cavity risk for children and adults.
Currently, the best recommendation is to have multiple doses of xylitol in a day to receive the most benefit. If you like to chew gum, this is great news. Pop a piece after a meal, and chew away. Just make sure that you are getting a xylitol gum, not a gum sweetened with something else and a little xylitol thrown in.