What to Know About Chewing Gum

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 27, 2021
3 min read

Chewing gum has been used since ancient times. The Greeks took sap from the mastic tree and chewed it. But today, gum is made synthetically and packaged for mass sale.

If it has sugar, your chewing gum may raise your risk of tooth decay. The bacteria in your mouth metabolize sucralose and other carbohydrates. This can erode the enamel layer on the outside of your teeth.

But chewing gum with sugar once in a while doesn’t pose major health risks, especially if you have good oral hygiene.

Sugar-free gum has less than 0.5 grams of sugars per serving and uses alternative sweeteners. Gum labels may mention sweeteners like:

  • Acesulfame-K
  • Aspartame
  • Neotame
  • Saccharin
  • Sucralose
  • Erythritol
  • Isomalt
  • Maltitol
  • Mannitol
  • Sorbitol‌
  • Xylitol

If your gum uses certain flavorings like citric acid, it may lower plaque buildup in your mouth. But keep in mind that if the gum also has sugar, the positive effects may be canceled out.

Chewing triggers your mouth to make more saliva. This protects your mouth from decay and erosion because saliva acts as a buffer for your teeth. More saliva may carry away bacteria and acid that build up on your teeth. 

The benefits of chewing gum don’t stop in your mouth. More saliva may help balance acids in your esophagus, easing symptoms of acid reflux.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is when stomach acid flows back into the tube that connects your mouth and stomach. Laryngopharyngeal reflux is when stomach acid goes up your esophagus to your throat.‌

Gum may also help with dry mouth, at least for a short time. But as with reflux, it’s not a cure.‌

Other health benefits of chewing gum include: 

  • Burning calories. You may burn 11 calories per hour that you chew gum. Over time, these add up. 
  • Improving your memory. Chewing gum boosts blood flow to your brain, which may help improve your memory. 
  • Fighting sleepiness. If you feel tired, chew some gum to stay alert.
  • Eliminating nausea. If you feel sick, the saliva production from chewing gum may help you feel better. This is especially true for motion sickness and morning sickness during pregnancy. 

Look for a seal of approval from the American Dental Association (ADA). These gums are verified by a panel of scientists who review the ingredients.‌

ADA-approved gums are sugar-free and have less of a risk to your teeth. Studies show that these gums are safe to use when you have cavities and will not make cavities worse.‌‌

But the ADA seal does not mean that chewing gum can replace regular brushing, flossing, and dental cleanings.‌

If you’re looking for something else to chew on, xanthan gum may be a good option. It’s a microbial polysaccharide that has a similar chewy consistency.

Xanthan gum is a common food additive to improve texture in foods. It may be flavorless, so check the label if you prefer flavorings.

Take care to clean your teeth well after eating or chewing gum:

  • Brush twice per day.
  • Make sure to brush all around your teeth from different angles, using gentle pressure.
  • Use dental floss to reach tight spaces and get between your teeth and gums.
  • Don’t skip any spaces, no matter how small. Bacteria are more prone to build up in small spaces that aren’t easy to reach.
  • Try a water flosser if you have trouble with regular floss.
  • Avoid hard foods and things like seeds that may get stuck in your teeth.‌
  • Have regular dental cleanings.