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Can chewing gum really clean your mouth?

Sugar-free chewing gum is an easy and accessible way to improve your oral health. This primarily occurs because the act of chewing causes an increase in salivary flow. Your saliva provides a myriad of benefits to your oral health – it reduces the risk of decay, gum disease, and fungal infections. It also improves the fit of dentures, and facilitates speech, chewing and swallowing food.

It is important to note that chewing gums with sugar may actually be detrimental to your teeth, as sugar increases the risk of decay. Therefore, it is recommended that they be avoided, and sugar-free chewing gums are chosen instead.

Saliva achieves these benefits in a number of ways – physically washing food and bacteria out of the mouth, providing antimicrobials, neutralising acids, and providing minerals to teeth to strengthen them.

The benefits of chewing (sugar-free) gum for saliva production

The act of chewing stimulates salivary glands to increase the rate that saliva is produced. The rate of production of stimulated saliva can be 10 to 12 times the rate of saliva at rest. This allows the saliva to “wash out” from the mouth sugars, acids and bacteria that lead to decay. By reducing these components, it facilitates bringing equilibrium and thus the state of health back into the oral cavity.

Saliva helps in clearance of bacteria through its antimicrobial properties, including lysozyme, peroxidase and lactoferrin which injure bacteria and prevent their growth.

Acids found in the mouth, which lead to break down of tooth structure and lead to decay, come from bacteria as a by-product or from the diet (for example, soft drinks, citrus and wine). Saliva buffers these acids as it contains bicarbonate and buffering proteins such as sialin. The increased flow rate of saliva also leads to the dilution of acids in the mouth which similarly leads to their neutralisation, preventing tooth structure loss.

Calcium and phosphorus are minerals that form part of the structure of teeth. An increased level of acidity in the mouth dissolves these minerals from tooth structure, leading to decay. Saliva not only buffers these acids to help prevent decay progression but also contains calcium and phosphorus that can be replaced into and strengthen tooth structure. Through re-mineralisation, saliva helps tooth structure to be maintained and prevents holes forming in teeth.

Saliva has a multitude of benefits for your teeth. Alongside a low-sugar diet, a regular oral hygiene routine and frequent visits to the dentist, good salivary flow is important in maintaining optimal oral health.

De Almeida, P., Grégio, A., Machado, M., De Lima, A., & Azevedo, L. (2008). Saliva composition and functions: A comprehensive review. The Journal of Contemporary Dental Practice, 9(3), 72-80.

Dodds, M. (2012). The oral health benefits of chewing gum. Journal of the Irish Dental Association, 58(5), 253-261.

Dodds, M., Roland, S., Edgar, M., & Thornhill, M. (2015). Saliva A review of its role in maintaining oral health and preventing dental disease. BDJ Team, 2(1-8), 15123.

Imfeld, T. (1999). Chewing gum–facts and fiction: A review of gum-chewing and oral health. Critical Reviews in Oral Biology and Medicine : An Official Publication of the American Association of Oral Biologists, 10(3), 405-419.

Lion. (2020). Function of the saliva. Retrieved from https://www.lion.co.jp/en/oral/role/03.htm

Therapeutic Guidelines Limited. Oral Dental Expert Group. (2007). Therapeutic guidelines. Oral and dental (Version 1.. ed.). North Melbourne: Therapeutic Guidelines Limited.

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