Chewing-gum has launched, over the years, numerous debates among health specialists. Some promote it for its health benefits, other are on the opposite side and consider that the side effects outweigh the positives. I will present you the pros and cons during this article, offer you my opinion and let you choose it chewing gum can be recommended from the health point of view, or not.
Chewing-gum has it’s origins far back in antiquity. The Greeks where chewing mastic tree resin, while the Maya people used to chew sap extract from the Sapodilla tree. The first commercial chewing-gum was first manufactured and sold in the US, back in in 1858. Soldiers where encouraged to chew gum, during the First World War, because of its stress relief properties. Later on, caffeine was added to chewing-gum and the product was promoted for its oral health benefits. It was considered a good replacement for tooth brushing, when this standard hygiene process wasn’t possible.
What is Chewing-Gum Made Of?
Initially gum was made of exactly the same ingredient used by Mayans and was called ‘Chicle’. The Sapodilla tree sap, a rubber-like ingredient, was mixed with different flavorings, to obtain the final product. There where also gums made of beeswax and paraffin. Later on, after WWII artificial latex was the main ingredient for chewing-gum manufacturing. Additives where also added in order to allow the flavor to be maintained for a longer time and prevent the gum consistency from increasing or decreasing.
A very important ingredient is the one responsible for the gum’s sweet taste. Older products where made with sugar as sweetening agent. However, it has been replaced nowadays by polyol, an artificial sweetener that isn’t cariogenic. The most commonly used polyol is xylitol, because of his anti-cariogenic health benefits. It’s properties are highlighted by the ability to inhibit the development of fermentation flora. This flora normally breaks down sugars which arrive by food in the in the oral cavity. This is why xylitol prevents plaque germs to release aggressive acids, thus avoiding the formation of low pH-levels, which could attack the enamel.
Chewing-Gum Pros and Cons
A. Health Benefits
1. Improves oral health: during chewing it absorbs leftovers from between the teeth; avoids low pH-levels; provides a fresh breath.
2. Reduces stress: as mentioned above the chewing act contributes to stress relief and promotes relaxation.
3. Aids digestion: chewing gum boosts enzyme and acids production, thus food is better processed.
4. Enhances memory: it helps focusing and thus memory becomes more efficient.
5. Helps with weight control: can easily replace the need of eating a snack between meals.
6. Removes fatigue: the physical chewing process has also a wake-up effect. It removes sleepiness.
B. Side Effects
1. Causes dental damage: Gum opponents claim that it favors cavities and teeth damage. This side effect can be easily neutralized by chewing sugar-free gum that contains xyltol. Dental erosion can be also prevented by not chewing in excess. Between 5-10 minutes after a main meal is enough.
2. Creates problems with fillings: Some reports claim that those with mercury fillings can end up with mercury vapors in their bloodstream after a chewing session. However, if you chew decently, without applying to much pressure, everything should be OK.
3. Promotes gastrointestinal issues: This side effect can be easily avoided by chewing gum immediately after meals. Bloating won’t happen and the extra acids and enzymes which result after chewing, contribute to a better digestion. Problems for those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) could only arise when chewing in-between meals.
4. Induces junk food: This claim is based upon the fact that gum chewers won’t eat fruits as often in-between meals. However, if gum chewing is done in moderation and only when needed, it won’t promote junk food.
5. Triggers jaw problems: Other gum opponents claim that you could end-up with an imbalance in the jaw muscles. However, chewing gum for it’s oral properties requires to move it all around your mouth, so even chewing will avoid any jaw muscle side effect.
All recent studies agree that chewing gum is a physiological act that relaxes and enhances the power of concentration in the same time. Perhaps this is why we often need to snack for something when we are focusing on a demanding task. It’s certainly healthier to chew gum, instead of eating chips or similar junk food.
A German research dating from 2009 confirmed that students which where allowed to chew gum, had better results in mathematics, compared to their colleagues that didn’t have access to it.
Considering all this, plus the fact that sugar is no more an ingredient and my personal experience of having a fresh and healthy oral hygiene if I chew a gum after a main meal, I personally recommend it. Do you?