Chew on This: An Overview of Gum

Posted on February 13, 2014 in General oral health

Beautiful girl taking pink chewing gum

Think a little chewing gum will cure your bad breath this Valentine's Day? Think again. Read on for the truth behind that myth – and chew on a few more facts along the way.

Though it's been around for thousands of years, chewing gum became widespread in the U.S. after chicle, a natural gum that's collected from certain trees, was brought back from Mexico in 1869. It didn't take long for people to figure out that the substance tasted better when sweetened, and thus, sugar-laden, cavity-causing gum was developed.

But not all gum is harmful to your teeth. Chewing sugar-free gum can stimulate saliva flow and help wash food particles and acids from teeth without feeding bacteria the sugar that they need to produce decay-causing acid. So, enjoying a stick of sugar-free gum after a meal can be very beneficial to oral health – though it's not a replacement for regular brushing and flossing.

Even better is xylitol gum, which may actually prevent oral bacteria from doing damage to teeth. Normally, when you consume something sugary, the bacteria in your mouth “feed” off of those sugars, producing acids that harm tooth enamel. Xylitol is indigestible by those bacteria, so it stops acid production.

Now, about that breath. Relying on a stick of gum or a breath mint may be a fine short-term solution to bad breath, but it won't fool your date for long. Gum and mints can only mask bad breath, not cure it. For long-term solutions, evaluate what you eat and your oral hygiene habits. If that doesn't help, consult a doctor – chronic bad breath can be a symptom of a bigger health issue.