You may have heard it both ways—either chewing gum is bad for your teeth or good because it helps clean them. So which is it?
If it were ever declared that gum is categorically bad for your teeth, it would most likely be because of the sugar added to it. While it may be fun to chew and a childhood favorite, these tasty treats are bad for your teeth. Why? The sugars that you enjoy so much in them are also attractive to the bacteria that live in your mouth. These bacteria use the sugars as fuel—since the sugars remain in your mouth long after you’ve spit out your gum—and produce acids that not only weaken teeth enamel, but also cause cavities.
On the other hand, gum that hasn’t been sweetened with sugar can actually be beneficial for your teeth. The action of chewing boosts the saliva flow in your mouth, washing away food debris and bacteria and strengthening your teeth. (Chewing sugary gum does this as well, but the saliva flow isn’t enough in that case to combat the sugars that remain in your mouth.) According to the American Dental Association, studies have shown that this increased saliva flow can be so beneficial that chewing gum for 20 minutes after a meal can prevent tooth decay. Saliva helps neutralize acids in our mouth after we eat, and it also contains calcium and phosphate, which strengthen tooth enamel.
Remember that, though (sugarless) chewing gum may have the benefits mentioned above, it can’t replace your daily oral hygiene routine. Brushing and flossing still have to happen regularly (along with visits to the dentist) in order to maintain a healthy mouth.