Chewing Gum and Tooth Decay
Is chewing gum that contains sorbitol and xylitol good for rebuilding enamel and keeping off cavities? I regularly chew sugar free gum for about 10 minutes following meals. Also are there any toothpastes and mouthwashes you specifically recommend for rebuilding enamel?
– Ross from St. Louis
The short answer is yes, sugar-free chewing gum is good for your teeth and helps rebuild enamel if chewed after meals. But it’s not actually the gum itself or any of the ingredients that has any effect on your teeth – it’s the saliva flow that it stimulates. And gum with sugar in it can provide the same benefit, as long as you keep chewing it after the sweet taste is gone.
Here are the beneficial effects of the saliva:
- It has ptyalin, an enzyme that breaks down carbohydrates. Food that contains carbohydrates and that sticks to your teeth is devastating to the teeth. A lot of decay goes on under that food debris unless you can clean it off right away. The ptyalin in saliva breaks down the carbohydrates, enabling this food debris to break away from your teeth so that you can swallow it.
- It has buffers in it that neutralize the acids produced by decay bacteria. The acids are what eat through your enamel, producing tooth decay.
- It has antibodies that fight the bacteria.
- It has minerals that rebuild your enamel.
So what you have going on in your mouth is a take-down and rebuild equilibrium. You eat carbohydrates, and plaque bacteria that are stuck to your teeth feed on those carbohydrates and produce acid as a waste product which attacks your enamel. Between meals, your saliva works to rebuild those areas that were attacked. People who snack all day long never give their saliva enough time to do that rebuilding work so, in spite of how much they may brush their teeth, they can get rampant tooth decay. Chewing gum stimulates saliva flow which aids in this rebuilding process.
In my dental practice, I would frequently have people who complained about all the tooth decay they were getting. Or it might be a parent telling me about their child. It would go something like this: “I don’t understand. I brush all the time and I still get tooth decay. I must have soft teeth.” I would then tell them it might be how frequently they eat. “How often do you eat?” I would ask. They would get a funny look on their face and then say, “Oh, is that what it is?” It was almost always the case that these people that got lots of decay liked to snack all day long.