The Sticky Truth

The day I got my braces removed in seventh grade was the day it all began. I was given a goody bag of chewy foods. I had chewed gum before, but now that it wasn’t getting stuck in wires, my love for gum began. I can’t play sports without gum and I especially can’t concentrate in class. I’ve been told I chew like a cow but that hasn’t stopped my love for gum. Being as I go through over a pack a week, I figured it would be good to understand how the gum is affecting my teeth.

A good place to begin is the American Dental Association’s website. They have an entire section about what gum to chew and the benefits of gum chewing. Gum is made up of a gum base (usually synthetic materials), artificial sweeteners, softeners (glycerin), and flavorings/coloring (ADA). Gum is very helpful if chewed for 20 minutes after meals. Gum aids the mouth in producing saliva which helps in cleansing the mouth. Saliva “can neutralize and wash away the acids that are produced when food is broken down by the bacteria in plaque on your teeth.” The ADA recommends chewing sugarless gum and what gums they approve can be found on their website or on the pack of gum itself. The ADA will allow certain gum companies to put their seal of approval on their packs of gum.  To get this seal of approval tests must be done that show the gum is helpful in at least one of these ways: “reducing plaque acids, promoting remineralization of tooth enamel, reducing cavities and/or reducing gingivitis.” Further tests are also done that show the gum is not harmful to the gum or teeth. Only sugarless gums have been given the ADA approval because not enough research has been done on the decaying effects of sugary gum.

So, sugarless gum is good for your mouth because it helps produce more saliva which cleans the mouth. Are there any other benefits to gum chewing? LiveScience summarized a study that reported gum chewing improves test scores. A study was done at St. Lawrence University with three different groups of people. One group chewed gum for 5 minutes before, another for the entire test, and the other group chewed nothing. The group that chewed gum for five minutes before showed better results for the first 20 minutes, then the effect wore off. The researchers believed that being as gum causes blood to move more quickly that blood was getting to the brain faster. However, the participants who chewed gum the entire time were not added. The scientists believe that the blood it took to chew the gum for an extended period of time actually took that extra blood needed to pump through the brain to help think. So overall, it is best to chew gum for 5 minutes, get a small boost at the beginning of the test, but spit the gum out before starting.

However, this test was done with a very small pool of 224 people. In addition, it may not have been taken into account that some people are purely smarter than others or have better test taking ability. This test was too small scale to definitively say that gum can really improve tests scores. Gum nevertheless does assist the production of saliva. Enough research has not been done on sugary gum to know the entire extent of the damage it can do on the mouth. So for now if we stick to the ADA approved brands then gum addiction may not be so bad.

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