Bonkers for bubble gum? In 2019, close to 165 million Americans popped a stick of gum, based on data from the U.S. Census and Simmons National Consumer Survey. While you may categorize gum as candy (read: bad for you), it actually has some sweet benefits for your teeth — and your overall health.
Here, experts share the pros of chewing gum, plus three reasons why you might want to reconsider making your bubble-blowing habit a daily one.
The Health Benefits of Chewing Gum
From reducing bad breath to gently whitening your teeth, chewing gum is linked to sprucing up your smile in many ways.
1. Chewing Gum Is Tied to Reducing Tooth Decay
Believe it or not, chewing gum can help curb cavities. But a gum's cavity-fighting power rests largely on the type you choose, says dentist and recipe creator Michelle Yanover, DDS.
Always opt for sugarless varieties containing the natural sugar alcohol xylitol. That's because xylitol may hinder some of the bacteria responsible for tooth decay, Dr. Yanover says. "Xylitol has been shown to inhibit the activity of Streptococcus mutans [a type of tooth-decaying bacteria] by stunting its ability to adhere to the tooth, hence stopping the cavity-promoting process."
Plus, chewing sugarless gum helps stimulate saliva production. "Think of saliva as your mouth's best natural defense," Dr. Yanover says. "Your mouth is home to over 700 different species of bacteria known as your oral microbiome." These bacteria use the food you eat as fuel, and, in the process, they make acidic waste products.
Not only does your saliva wash away food debris from your teeth, it also works to neutralize harmful plaque acids, which can cause tooth decay, per the American Dental Association. And an older April 2007 review in the Journal of Applied Oral Science found the same results: Chewing sugar-free gum after meals is linked to preventing dental caries, aka tooth decay.
What's more, if you chew sugarless gum with xylitol regularly, you can even shift the type of bacteria in your oral microbiome, meaning you'll have fewer decay-causing bacteria in your mouth
And that's not all: Stimulated saliva also produces a greater concentration of tooth-strengthening minerals and helpful proteins that protect against enamel loss, says Dr. Yanover. Chew on that!
2. It Might Squash Excessive Snacking
Popping a piece of gum won't magically help you shed a few pounds, but it may help to control overeating. When you're hankering for something sweet after a meal, you can help crush that craving by chewing gum instead of reaching for more food, says dietitian Laura Burak, RD, CDN.
Indeed, keeping your mouth busy with bubble gum can be a useful strategy to help you manage midday snacking or nix nighttime nibbling. One study found that the act of chewing affects the brain's reward circuits to help prevent impulsive eating and, therefore, potentially squashing appetite, per February 2018 research in Frontiers in Psychology.
Still, if you overeat because of stress or an emotional connection to food, it's crucial to tackle these core underlying issues, so that bubble gum doesn't slap a Band-Aid over the real problem, says Burak.
If gum helps you prevent overeating once in a while, then go for it. But if it becomes a daily, constant necessity, you should get to the heart of the matter and learn to develop a healthier relationship with food.
Not to mention, for some, the artificial sugars in gum can even exacerbate the need for sweets, adds Burak. That's because chewing gum tricks your body into thinking it's eating something sugary. But, when no calories are absorbed, your tummy's not satisfied and your body craves more, she says.
The moral of the story: If gum helps you prevent overeating once in a while, then go for it. But if it becomes a daily, constant necessity, you should get to the heart of the matter and learn to develop a healthier relationship with food, says Burak.
3. It May Brighten Your Smile a Bit
Worried about yellow teeth? "While chewing gum won't whiten your teeth like an in-office whitening treatment, or even as much as a home kit, you may see less staining," says Dr. Yanover.
"Because of the increased saliva, staining foods are more easily cleansed from the mouth." Plus, chewing sugarless gum reduces bacteria's adhesion to the tooth's surface, which helps slash the staining of your pearly whites, too.
4. Chewing Gum Is Tied to Less Stress
Another beneficial byproduct of bubble gum: The act of chewing can help ease stress, according to Burak. Indeed, a January 2014 study in the Journal of Prosthodontic Research observed that continuous chewing for more than 10 minutes reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol and effectively calms your nerves.
5. It's Linked to Brain-Boosting Benefits
For some, chewing gum can increase alertness and focus, according to Burak. In fact, chomping on a wad of gum may reduce sleepiness, per a February 2012 study published in Physiology and Behavior. Researchers theorize that chewing heightens cerebral activity, and, specifically, the strong scent and/or taste of mint may arouse certain parts of your brain and stimulate your senses to keep you awake.
This bubble-gum boost can be especially helpful when your mind's hit a midday slump at the office. Matter of fact, popping a piece of gum during the workday was linked with higher productivity and fewer cognitive problems for employees, according to a May 2015 study published in BioMed Research International.
6. Chewing Gum Reduces Bad Breath
Last but not least, chewing gum can get rid of ghastly breath, aka halitosis. Though foul breath can result from problems in the mouth, digestive system, sinus cavity or respiratory system, it's often just a byproduct of the bacteria in your oral microbiome, says Dr. Yanover.
These bacteria digest the same foods you eat, and, besides acids, they also produce waste in the form of volatile sulfur compounds, which lead to bad breath, per a 2013 study in the Journal of Science, Biology and Medicine.
"Be sure to ditch those sugar-containing breath mints, which can actually increase the bad-breath causing bacteria over time," she says. Instead, chew sugarless gum with xylitol for 20 minutes after a meal. This will help wash away food particles, neutralize acids and inhibit those stinky-mouth microbes from multiplying.
One Thing to Keep in Mind...
“Chewing gum should never replace good oral hygiene practice,” Dr. Yanover says. “Always brush your teeth twice a day, floss daily and clean your tongue.”
Chewing Gum's Drawbacks
Hate to burst your bubble, but despite gum's benefits, the sticky stuff has some shortcomings, too.
1. It Usually Contains Artificial Sugar
Just because sugarless gum contains few to zero calories, doesn't mean it's healthy, says Burak. In fact, chewing gum to stave off sweets may actually sabotage your health goals.
Since artificial sweeteners are way sweeter than real sugar, they can affect your taste buds — increasing your threshold for sweetness — and may even worsen your candy cravings, according to Burak. Basically, chewing bubble gum can backfire and lead to more unhealthy eating.
That's why you should always read the ingredients list. "Not all sugarless gums are created equal," says Dr. Yanover. "Some contain aspartame, which can be dangerous for people who have an inherited disorder called phenylketonuria (PKU), or sorbitol, which has been linked to digestive upset."
2. Chewing Gum Can Bring About Bloat
"As mom said, 'don't chew with your mouth open,'" Dr. Yanover reminds us. That's because when you chew gum, you swallow more air, which can lead to abdominal pain, gas and bloat. In addition, artificial sweeteners such as sorbitol and mannitol can cause bloat and/or diarrhea in people who are sensitive to them.
3. Too Much Chewing Can Cause Joint Issues
Excessive or aggressive chewing can also have side effects including headaches due to a loss of cartilage in the temporomandibular joints (TMJ), the joints and jaw muscles that enable you to open and close your mouth, says Burak.
In fact, chewing gum is one of the most common ways to cause this condition, also called temporomandibular dysfunction (TMD), according to Flushing Hospital Medical Center. An easy way to avoid this is by ensuring you don't make chewing gum a daily habit and by being gentle on your jaws when you pop a stick of gum into your mouth.
The Bottom Line
Chewing gum can be a healthy habit that can protect your smile and may even boost your mood so long as you don't chew too aggressively and frequently. And remember to choose a stick without artificial sugars and go for a brand that contains the sugar alcohol xylitol instead.
- Statista: “U.S. Population: Do You Chew Chewing Gum / Bubble Gum?”
- BioMed Research International: “Chewing Gum: Cognitive Performance, Mood, Well-Being, and Associated Physiology”
- Journal of Prosthodontic Research: “Influence of Chewing Time on Salivary Stress Markers”
- Physiology and Behavior: “The effect of Chewing Gum on Physiological and Self-Rated Measures of Alertness and Daytime Sleepiness"
- American Dental Association: "Saliva"
- Flushing Hospital Medical Center: "Are There Dangers Associated With Excessive Gum Chewing?"
- Journal of Science, Biology and Medicine: "Halitosis: From Diagnosis to Management"
- Journal of Applied Oral Science: "Sugar-free Chewing Gum and Dental Caries – a Systematic Review"
- Frontiers in Psychology: "Chewing Stimulation Reduces Appetite Ratings and Attentional Bias toward Visual Food Stimuli in Healthy-Weight Individuals"