Does Chewing Sugar-Free Gum Prevent Tooth Decay - How Does It Work?

Many people chew sugar-free gum as a breath freshener and often because they have heard that it can help to prevent tooth decay. Many brands of sugar-free chewing gum have met the American Dental Association's criteria for safety and effectiveness. Many brands contain a natural sweetener additive called xylitol, which has been claimed to fight cavity-causing bacteria.

In practice, though, it's not clear whether xylitol has much impact, despite the claims of the makers of sugar-free gum.

Perhaps it is the actually chewing itself that helps prevent cavities by cleaning food and plague off the teeth surfaces and from the gaps between the teeth.

Or it could have something to do with stimulating the flow of saliva into your mouth and that is this may be beneficial in some way. 

This article reviews the latest scientific research to answer these questions and to provide the best way to use sugar-free for oral hygiene and to help prevent tooth decay.

Sugar free gum has proven benefits for improving dental health.
Sugar free gum has proven benefits for improving dental health. Source: Public Domain
Most gum these days is free of sugar. But how safe are the artificial sweeteners?
Most gum these days is free of sugar. But how safe are the artificial sweeteners? Source: Public Domain
Smile Awhile Crocodile
Smile Awhile Crocodile. Source: Public Domain
Source: Public Domain
Source: Public Domain

Do the Additives Sorbitol, Carbamide and Xylitol Play a Role in Preventing Tooth Decay?

In a recent study of more than 600 children, 9-24 years of age, five treatments were applied:

The children were asked to chew at least 5 pieces of the gums they were allocated, every day after meals. The children's tooth decay was monitored over 3 years.

The study found statistically lower tooth decay rates in children who chewed gum, compared with the group who did not.

However, there was no significantly lower tooth decay rates for the groups using gums containing xylitol and sorbitol.

The conclusion from this, and other similar studies, is that the beneficial action of chewing sugar-free gum, occurs via the chewing process itself, and stimulated release of saliva, rather than an effect of gum additives or sweeteners.

Another study, published in the Journal of the American Dental Association confirmed these findings. The tooth decay rates of almost 700 adults were monitored over three years. The subjects were divided into two groups. One group consumed xylitol lozenges five times a day. The other group was given a placebo lozenge that had a similar taste but no xylitol. The study found no significant differences in the number of cavities in the two groups. The xylitol did not appear to provide any additional benefits.

Chewing gum made with sucrose, definitively increases the rate of tooth decay. A major literature review showed that subjects using sorbitol or xylitol as the sugar substitutes in toothpaste or chewing gum had a 30-60% reduction in dental caries. The conclusion was that the replacement of sucrose, with xylitol or sorbitol, significantly decreased the incidence of dental caries.

What are the Benefits of Chewing Gum?

The physical process of chewing, stimulates and maintains a flow of saliva into your mouth. So you chew gum after eating, the extra saliva flow can wash away and help neutralise the acids produced by bacteria breaking down food remnant in the plague on the teeth. The acid that builds up between meals can gradually erode the tooth enamel, creating the conditions for decay. Saliva flow also contains phosphate and calcium that helps strengthen tooth enamel.

However, chewing gum does not replace to brushing and flossing as the primary ways of reducing the risk of tooth decay. The best time to chew sugarless gum is after you eat and may not be beneficial at later times as a snack substitute.

Potential Negative Effects of Chewing Sugar-free of Gum on Oral Health

Chewing gum is not recommended for people with the following:

  • Loose dental work, that may dislodge crowns and fillings
  • Metal braces, because the gum can get lodged in the brackets and can be very difficult to remove
  • People with jaw muscle or chewing problems
  • Sensitivity or allergic responses to artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, or to xylitol or sorbitol.

Warnings Issue about Sugar-Free Products with Acidic Flavors

Various studies have show that many sugar- free products contain acidic flavors and other ingredients that counteract their benefits for reducing tooth decay.

This includes natural fruit flavors which can be acidic and harmful.