Is chewing gum bad for you? It’s definitely not a good idea if you just got a filling or a crown. And there’s nothing good about sugary gum, which feeds the bad bacteria in your mouth and increases the risk of tooth decay over time. However, the story’s not the same for sugar-free gum. Research suggests that a sugarless stick pays off big time when it comes to your oral and cardiovascular health.
Chewing gum has already been linked to numerous health benefits. Non-mint, sugar-free flavors like cinnamon or fruit may reduce symptoms of heartburn by helping you produce saliva, which lowers the amount of acid in the esophagus. Gum chewing may also be good for weight loss: Munching on a stick while you walk may help you walk faster and increase fat burn. So, why might gum improve oral health as well?
Testing the Theory
In a study published by the journal PLOS One, researchers from the Netherlands wanted to know just how much gum improves oral health. They already knew that chewing gum dislodges bits of plaque. However, they didn’t know whether the act of repetitive chewing itself could remove bacteria from the oral cavity. As such, their first goal was to determine how much bacteria gets trapped in gum after chewing. Their second goal was to find out the type of bacteria that gets trapped in gum.
In a big portion of the experiment, the researchers recruited five healthy volunteers. The volunteers had to brush their teeth twice a day. They did not use antibiotics or mouth rinses for a month prior to the study. For 10 days, each volunteer had to chew a 1.5-gram piece of gum once daily at the same time of day for a certain number of minutes. Those intervals were either 30 seconds, one minute, three minutes, five minutes, or 10 minutes. Then, the participants spit the gum into a container so that the researchers could analyze the samples for bacteria. The researchers tested two different types of spearmint, sugar-free gum, which they labeled gum A and gum B.
As the amount of chewing time increased, so did the amount of bacteria the gum contained. In other words, the gum trapped more and more species of bacteria inside it as the chewing time went up. Chewing gum for 10 minutes removed 100 million bacteria, or 10 percent of the microbial load in the saliva.
Interestingly, the researchers noticed that while the diversity of species in the gum increased with time, the number of bacteria trapped in the gum decreased. This suggests that spearmint gum and other mint flavors not only trap bacteria but also kill it. Indeed, previous research shows that spearmint and peppermint have antimicrobial properties.
Why It’s Great for Your Cardiovascular Health, Too
As a result, chewing gum is a great trick to improve your oral hygiene. Better oral hygiene comes with other benefits, like better cardiovascular health. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), poor oral health may make it difficult to control blood pressure if you already have hypertension. Also, periodontal disease – a disease that causes gum infection, gum inflammation, and tooth damage – can worsen blood pressure and make it difficult to treat.
Why is poor oral hygiene linked to poor cardiovascular health? Inflammation from oral conditions could cause inflammation in other parts of the body, including your arteries and other blood vessels. Gum disease, for example, could allow toxic molecules released by oral bacteria to enter the bloodstream, as explained in Current Cardiology Reviews.
In that sense, keeping up with your oral health can benefit your whole body! Just remember that the positive effects of chewing gum decrease after 10 minutes. (The bacteria trapped in the gum can re-enter the saliva.) Regardless, don’t feel rude about popping a stick of sugar-free, minty gum after lunch or dinner.