Chewing Gum: A Chewy Exploration from Antiquity to Your Oral Care Routine

in Jun 20, 2024
Chewing gum is a simple act, a snap decision at the checkout counter, and a familiar comfort throughout the day. But beneath the unassuming chew lies a surprisingly rich history, a potential ally for oral health, and even a spark of scientific debate. Buckle up, gum enthusiasts (and sceptics!), because we're diving deep into the world of this sticky subject and also understand chewing gum benefits.

A Timeless Chew: Tracing the History of Gum

The human desire to chew stretches back millennia. Ancient civilizations indulged in natural chewing materials like tree bark, resins, and beeswax. Evidence suggests the ancient Greeks chewed mastic gum, a resin from the mastic tree, for its potential medicinal properties. Fast forward to the Mayan civilization, where people chewed chicle, a latex sap harvested from the sapodilla tree.  Chicle would eventually become the foundation of modern chewing gum.

The 19th century marked a turning point in gum history. In 1869, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, a former Mexican president living in New York, introduced chicle to American entrepreneur Thomas Adams. Adams experimented with the substance, eventually creating the first commercially viable chewing gum in 1871. Early gum came in various shapes and flavours, but it wasn't until the invention of the chicle-based gum base in the 1920s that the industry truly boomed.

The 20th century saw an explosion of innovation in the chewing gum world. Fruit flavours like Juicy Fruit and Spearmint became staples. Bubble gum, invented in 1928, brought a playful element to chewing. Sugar-free gum emerged in the 1950s, catering to health-conscious consumers. Today, the chewing gum industry boasts a dizzying array of flavours, textures, and functionalities, from teeth-whitening to focus-boosting claims.

Beyond Fresh Breath: The Science of Chewing Gum and Oral Health

Are you one of those who wonder is chew gum good for health? So the answer is chewing gum is good. It isn't just a mindless pastime; it can benefit your oral health but with a crucial caveat: sugar-free gum is critical. Sugar-free gum, particularly gum sweetened with xylitol, offers several advantages:

Increased Saliva Flow: Chewing stimulates the production of saliva, which is nature's mouthwash. Saliva washes away food particles and neutralises acids in your mouth, creating a less hospitable environment for cavity-causing bacteria. Additionally, mouthwash can be beneficial for people who experience dry mouth. In such cases, it can help freshen breath and provide a temporary feeling of moisture.

Reduced Plaque Buildup: Xylitol, a sugar alcohol commonly used in sugar-free gum, disrupts the growth of harmful bacteria in your mouth. This can help prevent plaque, the sticky film that harbours bacteria and contributes to tooth decay.

Fresher Breath: Let's face it, bad breath can be a social bummer. Chewing gum can temporarily mask unpleasant odours caused by food particles.

Navigating the Aisles: Choosing the Right Gum for Your Smile

With countless gum options lining the shelves, how do you pick chewing gum that is good for your teeth. Here are some key considerations:

Sugar-Free is Non-Negotiable: This is the golden rule. Skip the sugary varieties and choose sugar-free gum sweetened with xylitol or other sugar alcohols.

Consider Plastic-Free Options: The environmental impact of gum shouldn't be overlooked. Many gum brands come wrapped in plastic, contributing to landfill waste. Look for gum packaged in biodegradable or compostable materials.

Image of Perfora's collaboration with Gud Gum a plastic free chewing gum

The Great Debate: Chewing Gum - Friend or Foe?

Chewing gum's impact on oral health is a topic of discussion. Let's weigh the pros and cons:

The pros are increased saliva flow, reduced plaque buildup, fresher breath, and the potential for improved alertness (although research is ongoing).

The cons are that excessive chewing can cause jaw strain, improper disposal can lead to litter (choose plastic-free gum!), and it may not be suitable for everyone (people with jaw problems or certain medical conditions should consult a dentist).

Chewing Your Way to a Healthy Smile: Integrating Gum into Your Oral Hygiene Routine

Chewing gum can be a helpful addition to your oral hygiene routine, but it's not a replacement for brushing and flossing.  Here are some tips for incorporating gum strategically:

This post-meal chewing stimulates saliva flow, helping to wash away food particles and neutralise lingering acids.

Focus on Freshness: Craving a breath freshener throughout the day? Pop a piece of sugar-free gum. Just remember, it's a temporary solution. Don't let gum replace your regular brushing and flossing routine.

Moderation is Key: While chewing gum offers benefits, moderation is crucial.  Limit your daily chewing to 20-30 minutes to avoid jaw strain. 

Beyond Oral Health: The Unexpected Benefits of Chewing

Chewing gum's potential benefits extend beyond your pearly whites. Studies suggest it may:

Boost Alertness: Chewing gum can increase blood flow to the brain, potentially leading to improved alertness and focus. However, more research is needed to solidify this connection.

Reduce Cravings: Chewing can help curb cravings by simulating eating and potentially suppressing your appetite.

Increase Calorie Burning: Although the effect is minimal, some studies suggest chewing gum may slightly increase your metabolic rate, leading to a slight boost in calorie burning.

Chewing Responsibly: A Sustainable and Mindful Approach

Chewing gum can be a fun and functional part of your day, but it's essential to be mindful of your impact.  Here are some tips for responsible chewing:

Dispose of Gum Properly: Chewing gum isn't biodegradable. Always dispose of it in a trash can, and never litter. Consider carrying a small reusable container for used gum.

Support Sustainable Brands: Look for gum companies committed to sustainable practices. This could involve using natural ingredients, recyclable packaging, or partnering with environmental organisations.

Mindful Chewing: Pay attention to your body's signals. If you experience jaw pain, discomfort, or headaches from excessive chewing, take a break or stop altogether.

Conclusion: Chewing with Confidence

Chewing gum, when approached thoughtfully, can be a beneficial addition to your life.  By choosing sugar-free options, practising moderation, and disposing of them responsibly, you can enjoy the potential oral health benefits and other perks of chewing gum while minimising any downsides. So, the next time you reach for a pack of gum, remember the fascinating history behind this simple act and chew confidently!

Takeaway Tips

  • Chewing gum can be a beneficial addition to your oral hygiene routine, but choose sugar-free options and practice moderation.
  • Look for gum made with natural ingredients and consider plastic-free alternatives.
  • Remember, brushing and flossing remain the cornerstones of good oral health.


1. Does chewing gum improve oral health?

Sugar-free gum, particularly with xylitol, can improve oral health by increasing saliva flow, reducing plaque buildup, and freshening breath.

2. What are the benefits of eating chewing gum?

While not technically considered food, chewing gum can offer benefits like improved alertness, reduced cravings, and potentially increased calorie burning.

3. Is it good to chew gum every day?

Chewing gum in moderation (20-30 minutes daily) is generally safe. However, excessive chewing can strain your jaw muscles.

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