Bursting the bubble on chewing gum

Effects of gum: beneficial or detrimental to health?


Lexi Tarter

Chewing gum can pose positive and negative effects on a person’s health. While gum containing sugar can damage teeth, gum containing xylitol, a natural sweetener, can help prevent cavities.

At 7 years old, junior Rachael Rizzi regularly chewed gum containing sugar. As she grew older, health concerns and a dentist visit convinced her to switch to sugar-free gum.

“I used to always like bubble gum machines,” said Rizzi. “I would be like, ‘Who has a quarter?’ I mean, I got a lot of cavities.”

According to dentist Sam Mudrik, constantly chewing gum that contains cane sugar tends to lead to cavities. 

“If a patient comes in with a lot of decay, the first question I ask is if they have any products [that contain] sugars or sweeteners,” Mudrik said. 

Chewing gum containing cane sugar can lead to a softened tooth enamel. Enamel is a brittle substance that protects teeth from outside forces that enter the mouth. 

“[Sugar gum] is kind of like food for the bacteria, which [leads to] an increased number of bacteria in our mouth,” said Mudrik. “[The sugar] produces more acid, which destroys our enamel.”

According to periodontist Devang Thakkar, constant gum chewing can also tire muscles in the jaw and occasionally lead to muscle spasms and a dislocated jaw disc.

In the jaw, there is a disc that protects the jaw bone and secures smooth movement of the jaw. 

A dislocated jaw disc can be the result of muscle spasms and Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, also known as TMJ, Thakkar said. 

According to Mudrik, consistent jaw movement, such as chewing gum, causes ligaments in the jaw to stretch, which is a cause of TMJ. 

Chewing gum for long periods of time can trigger temporary acid reflux, which causes minor discomfort in the chest, Mudrik said.

“When a person is chewing gum, our brains send a message to our stomach to produce more acid,” said Mudrik. “The production of too much acid can create acid reflux.”

Mudrik recommends chewing gum that contains xylitol for patients suffering from dry mouth, which is a condition when not enough saliva is produced, he said.

Saliva protects teeth against cavities, Mudrik said.

According to Thakkar, chewing gum can trigger bone growth, which can open airways and increase the ease and flow of breathing.

Chewing sugar-free gum also contributes to benefits such as decreasing the chances of misaligned teeth. 

“Chewing stimulates muscles and our jaw bones to grow adequately, hence decreasing chances of [misaligned teeth],” Thakkar said.

According to Rizzi, she is always reaching for a piece of gum when she needs to concentrate.

“Even though all my friends and family question how much gum I chew, it doesn’t stop me from taking a piece,” Rizzi said.