“Hey, do you have a piece of gum?” It’s whispered between desks at school, muttered to close friends after a meal, announced between officemates at work… From Orbit to Juicy Fruit, everyone everywhere seems to be chewing gum. But could chewing gum actually be bad for you?
Chewing gum feels like a mix between rubber and plastic in your mouth — not exactly the consistency of anything natural or healthy. And because you were probably banned from chewing gum in school and it seems like something that’s wrecking your teeth, you might think chewing gum is a bad idea.
If you Google whether or not chewing gum is bad for you, that assumption is reinforced pretty immediately. Sources such as Healthline and Dr. Axe, two frequently consulted outlets for health and wellness information, shout cautionary tales of “gut destruction” and tooth decay.
Artificial sweeteners used in sugar-free gum have been linked to digestive distress, and sugar-sweetened gum could contribute to cavities — hence the abject warnings.
But according to Judy Bendit, RDH BS, a dental hygienist who now designs education programs for other dental professionals, steering people away from chewing gum is the only real bad idea here.
“There is a lot of evidence that shows the ingredients in chewing gum can be amazing and really help us,” Bendit told The Daily Meal in a phone interview. “Warning people that it’s harmful might actually do more harm than good.”
She explains that while yes, some sugar substitutes cause gastrointestinal distress for certain people, it is unlikely a person would experience these effects unless they were chewing gum nonstop every single day.
“If you sat down and ate an entire tin, it could affect your enamel, yes,” she conceded. “But like everything else, it’s moderation. If you get five to 10 servings every day, you’ll be fine.”
In fact there are all kinds of benefits to chewing gum that people might not know about. For instance, there are certain applications that relate to brain health.
“There are studies that show that if you chew gum while studying, it changes your cortisol levels,” Bendit explained. Cortisol is one of the body’s stress hormones — typically at a high level when studying for a difficult exam. “Kids can actually perform better on tests if they chew gum.”
Bendit says chewing gum has also been used to improve memory outcomes in dementia patients. The act of chewing can help with wakefulness and stimulate brain activity. Other benefits include appetite stimulation and increased saliva production for people struggling with dry mouth.
“No saliva, no protection,” Bendit says. Chewing gum helps alleviate that issue.
If You Swallow Gum
OK, so chewing gum isn’t necessarily harmful, so long as you do it in moderation (and we’re talking pack-a-day moderation, which isn’t all that limiting). But what happens to gum if you swallow it? Is it bad for you then?
“Well, there is no evidence that it’s bad,” insists Bendit. “I’ve seen that it comes through the gut just like anything else. I’ve talked to gastroenterologists and they haven’t had a problem with it, either.”
She’s right. You can’t digest the substances found in gum, but there are other edible substances that you can’t digest, either — like the outer shells of corn kernels . Most doctors agree that gum and these other substances just move right through your digestive tract. A mass of gum, on the other hand, could clog things up. Again: It’s all about moderation.
Some chewing gums are made using an artificial sweetener called xylitol. This compound has even more benefits that can make chewing gum a valuable tool for doctors and patients.
Bendit says that unlike the sugar in regular gum, xylitol can actually prevent cavities. It brings the pH of your mouth back to a neutral level, preventing imbalances and, as a result, tooth decay.
“If you regularly drink soda or coffee, you’re keeping the pH of your mouth very low,” Bendit says. “If you chew on some xylitol gum, you can bring the pH back to neutral.”
In fact, Bendit goes so far as to say that gum shouldn’t be banned in schools; it should be mandatory.
“If we made it mandatory to chew xylitol gum after every meal at school, we wouldn’t have as many cavities,” she insists.
This is a tactic the United States military has been using for years — every single one of their ready-to-eat meals comes packed with xylitol chewing gum. It’s one of the measures used to keep soldiers’ teeth healthy while they’re in the field.
Some people do experience things like bloating or reactions to the sweeteners in chewing gum. If you’re having these problems, it’s best to consult a gastroenterologist to see if you’re chewing too many sticks per day. But even if you are overdoing it, there are worse things you could be going through a pack of every day. The whole idea that gum, in any quantity, is bad for you? That’s a food myth you should probably toss.