To Chew or Not to Chew

Dr. Geoffrey Harris, MD

Should you chew gum?

While at one time considered rude, gum chewing is becoming more socially acceptable. There are also more and more experts touting the benefits of chewing sugarless gum to help people quit smoking, lose weight, or just stay calm. Science is starting to look into gum and its possible benefits to human health as well. Here is some gum research to chew on.

Weight Loss
A 2007 study by Marion Hetherington and Emma Boyland that was published in the journal Appetite found that by chewing gum for 15 minutes every hour after lunch, study participants consumed 36 calories (only about 2 teaspoons of sugar) less during their afternoon snack and partially suppressed their appetite. The authors felt that gum can be an important part of a weight control plan.

Improved Memory
A 2002 study published in the journal Appetite found that gum-chewers performed better during a memory test than people who did not chew gum. People who chewed gum during the testing were better at retrieving memorized words than subjects who did not chew gum or pretended to chew.

Stress Relief
A survey by the Princeton Review found that many students chew gum to relieve stress while studying and during exams. A 2006 survey by the FRC research corporation observed that gum-chewers reported that they felt more relaxed and able to deal with stress when they chewed gum.

Improved Oral Health
Chewing gum stimulates saliva production. Saliva has some antibacterial effects and can help wash away food debris. Saliva also helps prevent dry mouth and neutralizes plaque acids. A 2001 study in the Journal of Dental Research found that children who chewed sugarless gum for 20 minutes after every meal had a 38.7% reduction in cavities after two years compared with children who did not chew gum.

None of this research is especially strong and any possible benefit of gum is likely small. However, I do encourage some of my patients to chew gum. The main reasons I recommend chewing gum are for weight control in people who need to have something in their mouth to avoid snacking, people who are trying to quit smoking without gaining lots of weight, or patients with chronic dry mouth. Generally, I consider gum chewing pretty benign and low risk, even if any potential benefit might be small.

That said, I do not recommend chewing gum to anyone with TMJ (Temporomandibular joint disorder), a painful condition that is caused by inflammation in the jaw joint. If you are having ear pain, jaw pain, jaw popping, or headaches with chewing, please see your doctor.

Otherwise, chew away… just don’t snap your gum.

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