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Many people wonder if chewing gum is good or bad for oral health? Well, it depends…

Let’s begin by referring to the American Dental Association (ADA), which has adopted guidelines to evaluate dental products for safety and effectiveness. When a product meets those guidelines, it garners what’s called the ADA Seal of Acceptance.

Gum-chewers will be happy to know that the ADA has recognized that certain chewing gum brands — all of which are sugarless — have scientifically demonstrated that they can actually protect teeth! But just to be perfectly clear, not one chewing gum that contains sugar has been ADA-accepted.

For clarity’s sake, let’s assume that all subsequent references to chewing gum mentioned below are sugarless and have the ADA Seal.

Everyone develops plaque, and that plaque contains bacteria that break down the food we eat and produce acid which wears away the protective coating called enamel — the hardest substance in the human body. When this enamel layer is broken down, our teeth become vulnerable to tooth decay.

But chewing gum after you eat increases the flow of saliva in your mouth, which helps to neutralize and wash away those decay-causing acids. Increased saliva flow also possesses more calcium and phosphate, which help to strengthen tooth enamel.

Depending on the chewing gum, it can also reduce acids from plaque, promote re-mineralization of tooth enamel, and reduce cavities and gingivitis. Some clinical studies have shown that chewing sugarless gum for 20 minutes after meals can help to prevent tooth decay.

Chewing gum cannot replace brushing and flossing, of course. Chewing gum helps best if it’s used in conjunction with brushing twice a day and flossing once daily.

We would offer a word of caution: Excessive chewing can potentially cause jaw pain and even lead to temporomandibular joint dysfunction (often called TMJ or TMD).

While excessive gum-chewing can potentially cause TMJ disorder, more often than not, chewing gum affects those who are already susceptible to TMD by exacerbating its symptoms and aggravating the condition.

For most people, though, chewing gum can be helpful in maintaining good oral health (when used in moderation). But be sure to look for the ADA Seal of Acceptance to ensure that your sugar-free chewing gum meets the ADA criteria for safety and effectiveness.