Is Gum Bad for You? Everything You Should Know About Chewing Gum

Chewing gum is a common part of many people's daily routines, despite lacking any significant nutritional value. However, it's worth noting that chewing gum can potentially impact our health in various ways, with some effects possibly influenced by the gum's origins. In this article, we'll explore the diverse health effects associated with chewing gum.

How is gum made?

Gum manufacturing is based on a step-by-step process where chewing gum is made starting from the formulation of a gum base. This main stage entails mixing elastomers, resins, waxes, and fillers which give the desired texture and chewing qualities. The mixture is then heated and blended until it melts into molten material ready for blending. Additives such as flavorings, sweeteners, and additional ingredients like softeners and preservatives are added. In preparation for packaging, the sheets produced are cut into the desired shape after rolling them out.

As part of the production process, certain types of gum may undergo a coating procedure, which can be carried out to provide an additional texture or appearance.

In the chewing gum market, product categorization includes sugar-containing chewing gums and sugar-free chewing gums. Sugar-containing gums incorporate monosaccharides such as glucose, fructose, galactose or disaccharides like sucrose, maltose, and lactose. On the other hand, sugar-free gums are sweetened with polyols like xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol, or maltitol, which are noncariogenic, meaning they do not promote caries or tooth decay. Despite providing a sweet taste, these sugar-free options do not serve as a suitable energy source for oral bacteria.

Sugar-sweetened gums

Chewing gum with simple sugars such as monosaccharides and disaccharides has fermentable carbohydrates that oral bacteria, in particular S. mutans and Lactobacillus spp., can metabolize. The result of this bacterial activity is the formation of dental plaque and acid that may cause the erosion of enamel and caries. The impact can vary based on factors such as gum consistency, duration of chewing, and consumption order. For instance, chewing sugar-containing gum before consuming foods that decrease acid production may be less cariogenic compared to chewing gum after such meals.

Sugar-free gums

In accordance with the Code of Federal Regulations promulgated by the FDA, a food product can be referred to as 'sugar-free' if it contains less than 0.5 grams of sugar per serving. This means sugar-free chewing gums do not contain any sugar but instead employ artificial, high-intensity sweeteners such as aspartame, acesulfame-K, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, or stevia.

Conversely, these gums may also derive their sweetness from sugar alcohols such as erythritol, isomalt, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, or xylitol. Although they contain fewer calories and are considered non-nutritive, except for aspartame and sugar alcohols, other sweeteners are categorized as nutritive by the FDA because they contribute more than 2% of the calories present in an equivalent amount of sugar.

Gum types

Natural gums are hydrophobic substances primarily derived from plants or microorganisms. Gums are used not only for chewing gum production but also for various purposes in the food and drug industry.

Guar gum

Guar gum, classified as a galactomannan polysaccharide, is extracted from the endosperms of seeds belonging to the Cyamopsis tetragonolobus plant, which is part of the Leguminosae family. This natural polysaccharide is non-toxic, readily available, and can be obtained from renewable natural resources. Guar gum plays a crucial role in the food industry as a thickening and stabilizing agent. Due to its easy availability, non-toxicity, biodegradability, and eco-friendly characteristics, guar gum emerges as a promising candidate in the realm of excipients in pharmaceutical drug development.

Xanthan gum

Xanthan gum (E 415) is also not expected to be absorbed intact and is likely to undergo fermentation by intestinal microbiota. While repeated oral intake by adults of xanthan gum up to 214 mg/kg body weight per day for 10 days was generally well tolerated, some individuals may experience abdominal discomfort. Xanthan gum is also widely used as a thickening and stabilizing agent.

Nicotine gum

Nicotine gum, designed as a smoking cessation aid, contains nicotine as its active ingredient. It serves a pharmaceutical purpose, providing controlled doses of nicotine to individuals seeking to quit smoking. This approach helps manage withdrawal symptoms and is part of comprehensive smoking cessation programs.

Gellan gum

Derived from the bacterium Sphingomonas elodea, gellan gum serves as a gelling agent and stabilizer in the food industry. Its applications include the creation of stable gels, desserts, and plant-based milk alternatives. Gellan gum exhibits unique properties, forming stable gels under a diverse range of conditions.

Mastic gum

Obtained from the resin of the Pistacia lentiscus tree, mastic gum has traditional significance in the Mediterranean region. Apart from its culinary applications, it is valued for potential health benefits, including contributions to digestive and oral health.

Is gum bad for your teeth?

Chewing gum after a meal boosts saliva flow by activating oral receptors. Unstimulated saliva rate for healthy individuals is around 0.3–0.4 ml/minute, but chewing gum, especially sweetened and flavored, elevates it 10–12 times. This increased saliva helps counteract acid produced by plaque bacteria, supporting enamel. The stimulated saliva also contains calcium, phosphate and fluoride that may help strengthen enamel. Furthermore, the proteins in saliva form a protective layer on your enamel, guarding against dental erosion. Additionally, saliva acts as a buffer against acids in food, and swallowing it helps remove excess acids from your mouth.

A systematic review and meta-analysis on sugar-free gum sweetened with xylitol reported a statistically significant reduction in the S. mutans load. This finding suggests the potential benefits of sugar-free chewing gum, particularly when used as an adjunct to recommended home oral hygiene practices.

Regularly chewing gum among individuals in good health has little impact on the composition of the bacteria in the plaque on teeth. However, frequent use of maltitol gum specifically shows an inhibitory effect on certain bacteria found in this plaque. Some of these bacteria are known as early colonizers of dental surfaces.

What are the physical effects of chewing gum?

Chewing gum doesn't make your jawline look different. A study from 2019 found that chewing gum mainly strengthens the muscles in your tongue and cheeks, not the jawline. Therefore, while gum chewing might be good for oral function, it doesn't directly impact the appearance of your jawline.

If you're curious about whether chewing gum can contribute to calorie burn and weight loss, it's important to note that the impact is minimal and unlikely to influence fat loss directly. However, for some individuals, chewing gum may assist in appetite control, indirectly leading to a reduction in calorie intake. It's crucial to pay attention to how your body responds to gum chewing, as some people may experience increased hunger after chewing gum due to heightened salivary activity and digestive signals. Individual reactions to chewing gum can vary, so it's essential to be mindful of your own body's signals and responses.

Dietitian’s word on chewing gums

Chewing sugar-free gum can offer health benefits, provided that the duration of chewing is not excessively prolonged. However, it's important to recognize that solely chewing gum is not sufficient for maintaining oral hygiene. To safeguard your dental health, regular brushing of teeth and limiting the intake of sugary or acidic foods, which can erode tooth enamel, are essential practices. Once these foundational steps are in place, incorporating chewing gum into your routine can further support oral health.


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