It’s something dentists have recommended for a long time: chewing gum, especially sugar-free gum, after eating. We have always assumed it would have a protective effect, but evidence has been very sparse so far. Now a new study helps us understand not just that chewing gum works to protect your oral health, but gives us insight into a previously neglected mechanism.
As noted above, there is not a lot of information about how chewing gum helps protect the mouth. In fact, this 2007 review, the last one available, only found 9 articles in searching both English and Portuguese databases (incidentally, Portuguese is the official language of Brazil, which is perhaps more dedicated to oral health than any other country). The majority of articles showed that there was a protective effect in the form of reduced risk of cavities, and proposed two mechanisms for that protection.
First, some researchers cited the stimulation of saliva production in the mouth. Saliva is your body’s own antibacterial formula, so the more you produce, the harder it is for bacteria to grow in your mouth. Other researchers cited the lack of sugars that bacteria could use. Sugar-free gums have xylitol, sorbitol, or other sugar substitutes that don’t promote bacterial growth and may even suppress it.
However, a new study has highlighted another way that gum works to protect the mouth. Gum can actually trap a significant number of bacteria, removing it from the mouth. In a new study published in PLOS One, it was shown that chewing gum removed as much bacteria as flossing.
Researchers had subjects chew gum for 10 minutes, then analyzed the bacterial content of the gum. They found that it contained about 100 million bacteria, which, according to their figures, is about the same amount as is removed during flossing.
But don’t throw out your floss just yet. Analysis of the types of bacteria captured by chewing gum revealed that it isn’t always the ones you’re most concerned about. In fact, less than half of the bacteria was of a type that normally adheres to the teeth, causing cavities and gum disease, while most of the bacteria found either lived in saliva or came from other microbiomes in the mouth. So, while chewing gum might remove as much bacteria as flossing, it removes significantly less of the bacteria we’re most concerned about.
This study shows that chewing gum is in fact a positive addition to your oral hygiene routine, but it’s in no way a reasonable substitute for brushing or flossing, and certainly no substitute for regular dental cleanings.
If you are looking for a dentist in Beverly Hills, please call (310) 275-5325 for an appointment at Nicolas A. Ravon, DDS, MSD today.