Swapping your sugary gum for a sugar-free alternative is good for your teeth. In fact, some brands of sugar-free gum have earned the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance.
But sugar-free gum may not be good for everyone. Before you buy your next pack, make sure you understand sugar-free gum’s potential side effects as well as the benefits.
Health claims of sugar-free gum
There are many claims about sugar-free gum and its potential benefits for dental health. These include the following.
Reduces or prevents tooth decay and cavities
Chewing sugar-free gum after meals for 20 minutes at a time helps to reduce tooth decay. This is primarily because it causes your mouth to produce more saliva.
Saliva helps wash away microscopic food particles left behind after eating. It also nullifies and washes away the acids produced when food is broken down by bacteria in plaque.
A two-year clinical study that followed 547 school-aged children in Budapest found that chewing sugar-free gum after meals significantly reduced the formation of cavities.
One small study found that chewing either sugar-free gum or gum with sugar reduced existing plaque and plaque formation.
However, the study found that chewing gum had no effect on the rate of gingivitis (gum disease).
Strengthens tooth enamel
The increase in saliva that gum chewing produces also helps to strengthen tooth enamel. This is because saliva contains calcium and phosphate.
Reduces sensitivity in teeth caused by tooth whitening
Temporary feelings of tooth sensitivity are a common result of in-office tooth whitening procedures.
One study indicated that chewing sugar-free gum was able to reduce the level of sensitivity in teeth for participants who chewed two different types of sugar-free gum.
What’s in sugar-free gum?
Various brands of sugar-free gums have different ingredients, which are all designed to mimic the taste of sugar. Some of these are artificial sweeteners, and others are made from natural sources.
The sweeteners in sugar-free gum include:
- Sugar alcohols. The most commonly used sugar alcohols in sugar-free gum are xylitol, isomalt, maltitol, mannitol, and sorbitol. Sugar alcohols come from berries and other fruits.
- Aspartame. Aspartame is an artificial sweetener made from two amino acids — phenylalanine and aspartic acid.
- Stevia. This natural sweetener is made from the leaves of the stevia plant.
In addition to the type of sweetener used, sugar-free gum can also contain natural and chemical ingredients designed to provide texture, chewiness, and long-lasting taste. These ingredients vary from brand to brand.
Side effects of chewing sugar-free gum
While not a side effect, remember that sugar-free gum isn’t a substitute for good dental care and shouldn’t be used instead of brushing teeth.
The side effects of sugar-free gum can vary based upon their ingredients:
- The phenylalanine in aspartame can be dangerous for people who have an inherited disorder called phenylketonuria (PKU).
- Excessive use of sorbitol has been reported to cause problems with digestion, such as diarrhea and, in some rare cases, dramatic and unwanted weight loss.
- An allergy to aspartame can cause hives anywhere on the body as well as gastrointestinal or respiratory issues.
- Because the action of chewing can cause jaw muscles to tighten, chewing any type of gum excessively may cause jaw pain. Chewing gum has also been linked to an increase in temporomandibular joint pain (TMJ), although this potential side effect is not definitively accepted.
People who have braces should also avoid gum of any kind to avoid damaging their braces. Most pregnant women should be able to chew sugar-free gum during their pregnancy as long as they don’t have any issues with any of the ingredients in the gum.
The bottom line
Chewing sugar-free gum is better for dental health than chewing gum with sugar. Sugar-free gum has been shown to reduce cavities and plaque production. But it isn’t a substitute for good dental habits, such as brushing teeth after meals.
The ingredients in sugar-free gum can have some side effects, which make it a bad choice for some people. Make sure to read the label of any sugar-free gum you plan to chew before using it.