Sorting Through The Sugar-Free: Is Gum OK For Your Teeth?

Sugary gum has long been a favorite of gum chewers and the bane of the dentist's office. Sugar-free gum is somewhat better, but research has been mixed about its effects on your teeth. Sugar-free gum that uses sugar alcohols like xylitol as a sweetener is now very popular. Yet with research showing both potential increases and decreases in cavity risk, is it time to wean yourself off gum chewing, or is that sugar-free gum OK? The answers lie in the ingredients list and your daily routine.

Sugar Alcohols May Reduce the Chance of Developing Cavities

Sugar alcohols, xylitol in particular, may reduce the incidence of cavities by reducing the ability of bacteria in your mouth to ferment the sweetener. This allows you to chew the gum without feeding those bacteria. By comparison, when you chew regular sugary gum, you're pretty much providing a microscopic lunch. You really should treat sugary gum as if you'd just eaten candy. The main drawbacks to xylitol that most people know about are its tendency to cause intestinal distress if you eat too much (this should not be a problem if you're chewing only one piece of gum), and its toxicity in pets.

Acidic Additives May Counter That Reduction

However, if those sugar-free gums contain acidic additives, such as fruit flavoring, you could actually increase the risk of tooth enamel erosion. This may not be too surprising to those of you who know to wait 30 minutes between eating and brushing your teeth because acidic foods can weaken enamel, leading to tiny scratches if you brush too soon. You have to wait that amount of time so your enamel has a chance to become strong again. But it can be surprising news to people who chew sugar-free gum specifically to protect their enamel.

Sugar-Free Does Not Mean Hygiene-Free

The key to all this is that chewing sugar-free gum does not excuse you from taking care of basic oral hygiene. You need to brush and floss regularly to reduce the risks of any gum ingredient harming your teeth. Good oral hygiene can go a long way toward countering any adverse effects from gum.

If you're still unsure if you should continue chewing sugar-free gum, a chat with your dentist might be best. Remember that one piece of gum once in a while isn't going to destroy your teeth. But if you're someone who chews gum constantly, you need to know what the benefits and risks are.