Is Chewing Gum Good or Bad for Your Teeth? 

Chewing gum

Gum. Either you love it or you hate it. It might be your everyday go-to, or it could be one of those “bad habits” you can’t stand other people are doing. Regardless of your opinion—if you even have one—it’s vital to address the elephant in the room: is chewing gum bad for teeth or not?

The answer: chewing gum can either be really bad for your teeth or really good for them, depending on two key details:

1)The type of gum you choose

2)How often you chew it

Gum Chewing & Jaw Pain

Whether or not chewing gum is bad for teeth or good for them, they all affect your Temporomandibular joint (TMJ). It could be the best gum for teeth or the worst, it won’t matter. If you’re already prone to jaw pain, earaches, migraines, or suspect that you have TMJ disorder (TMJD/TMD), regular gum chewing could cause more frequent flareups and painful symptoms.

People with TMJ disorder tend to see more frequent flare-ups anytime their jaw is overused. For example, people who clench their teeth because of stress or sleep apnea also experience TMJ pain because of the joint constantly being contracted. If you chew gum on top of already preexisting TMJ conditions, you’ll likely send yourself straight into a flare-up. Particularly if your gum is really hard, such as bubble gum. Firmer textures of foods are a risk factor for TMJ flareups, so dentists typically warn against them.[1] That means firm gum, steak, whole apples, carrot sticks, etc.

If you don’t have TMJ pain, you might not have to worry about gum chewing bothering you at all. But if you do, limiting how often you chew gum is an important part of pain management.

In fact, you might not want to chew gum at all if you already know you have TMJ disorder.

Why Is Chewing Gum Bad For Teeth?

The type of gum you choose could be one that’s completely detrimental to your mouth.[2] Even if you’re only chewing one piece a day, a few days a week. If your kids bring home bubble gum as prizes or rewards from camp/school/etc., you’ll want to try to bribe them with something else. Here’s why:

A Recipe For Cavities

Every gum is going to have something in it that makes it sweet. You need to look at the source of the sweetener to make sure it’s not going to be bad for you. While a little sugar here and there in moderation isn’t going to be the end of the world, chewing gum with sugar in it on a semi-frequent basis is known to cause rampant tooth decay.

Most of the cavities caused by chewing gum (especially bubble gum in children) will start out as tiny little holes in the bottom of those deep grooves in your back teeth. You won’t even see them, but they will go down into your tooth and “bomb them out” from the inside. Chances are you’ll be clueless until your dentist takes an X-ray. Occasionally sweet sensitivity might be the only warning sign.

Any time sugar sits on your teeth for a long period of time—which is what happens when you’re chewing gum—it consistently demineralizes your tooth enamel. It’s only a matter of time before you give yourself cavities.

Broken Dental Work And Orthodontic Appliances

Some types of gum tend to be really, really sticky. Especially the ones that aren’t sugar free. If you’ve just had dental work done (maybe you have a temporary crown) or got braces, sticky gums could pull parts of them off your teeth. Particularly if only a temporary bonding agent was used, as is the case for stainless steel crowns. On the other hand, sugar free gums don’t tend to be that sticky so there isn’t usually as big of a risk when you chew them.

If you have a kid or teen in braces, your orthodontist might even give you instructions that say not to chew any gum whatsoever, unless it’s 100% sugar free.

Can Chewing Gum Be Good For Teeth? YES!

How can gum be good for you if it already has the opportunity to be so bad on your teeth? There are several ways, actually! Once you understand the best gum to pick up in the grocery store, you’ll probably want to keep it on hand every day to compliment your brushing and flossing routine.

1) Pick One That’s Sugar Free

First and foremost, pick a gum that’s sugar free. Yes, that means reading the label. Usually if it’s sugar free it will say so on the very front of the packaging. Ideally you want one that uses Xylitol as the main ingredient. This is a particular type of sweetener that’s safer on your teeth than other types of sugar substitutes. But if you only have the option of another type of sugar free gum and one with sugar, any sugar free option will be gentler on your teeth.

2) Plaque And Cavity Reduction

Get ready to have your mind blown. When Xylitol is the sweetener used in your chewing gum, it physically reduces the amount of dental plaque that sticks to your teeth. There have been plenty of scientific studies out there to show just how effective Xylitol is against plaque, and while it might not be great on your digestive tract, it’s like a miracle worker in your mouth.

Every time you chew a piece of Xylitol gum, it helps lower bacteria levels to neutralize acidity in your mouth. In turn, that leads to a much lower risk of getting cavities. But if you’re chewing gum with sugar in it, you’re basically feeding all of those bacteria and doing the polar opposite. It’s literally one or the other. Being educated about your options can give you an advantage when it comes to long-term oral health.

3) Improved Breath

Chewing a piece of gum after a meal is a great substitute if you’re running around town and don’t have a toothbrush on hand to fend off bad breath. Does it replace brushing? No. But it can buy you some time between your regular brushing sessions. In turn, you’ll enjoy a boost in fresher breath and help cover up any of those odors from your business lunch or 3 pm cup of coffee!

4) Saliva Production And Dry Mouth

People with xerostomia (dry mouth) are at a statistically higher risk of cavities. The lack of saliva constantly lubricating the inside of their mouths allows acids and bacteria to sit there longer, etching away at tooth enamel. Not only does xerostomia cause an increase in cavities, but it also raises your risk for oral infections like thrush. However…chewing gum helps stimulate saliva production. When you put a piece in your mouth, your saliva glands are triggered and your mouth naturally starts to water. Chewing on it for several minutes can give you a boost in saliva flow to combat symptoms of dry mouth. In turn, you actively help lower your cavity risk. But only if the gum is sugar-free, of course! Otherwise, it still makes chewing gum bad for teeth.

What If You Want The Benefits Of Gum But Have TMJ Pain?

Is it possible to get the benefits of gum with Xylitol if you still have TMJ disorder? Yes, but only if you get your Xylitol “exposure” from a source other than gum. Now that we understand how beneficial Xylitol really is on teeth, it’s more readily accessible over the counter and at places such as health food stores. You can find it in products like breath mints, lozenges, toothpastes, drops, and sprays.

Xylitol basically “starves” cavity-causing bacteria in your mouth, but it can also help with managing bacteria levels in the back of your throat, lessening your chances of getting other infections like pneumonia.[3]

But fair warning: don’t swallow your Xylitol gum. No, it’s going to block up your digestive tract and build-up for two decades like your grandma used to tell you it would. But if you do ingest too much Xylitol it is known to make some people get diarrhea or have general stomach discomfort. That’s why it’s not recommended as a sugar substitute for things like baking, where you need larger amounts of ingredients. And like chocolate, it’s also toxic to dogs, so keep Xylitol out of the reach of any household pets.

Be Smart About Your Gum Choices

Bottom line. Always choose a sugar free gum. Preferably one that contains Xylitol since it’s scientifically proven to be healthier for your teeth. When you chew sugar free gum it lowers bacterial levels, stimulates saliva production, freshens breath, and helps lower your risk of getting frequent cavities. Don’t chew gum regularly if you have TMJ problems, jaw pain, or temporary dental restorations. And never chew gum with sugar in it on a regular basis (only splurge every now and then, the same way you would other sugar sources.) Chewing a sugar-based gum is bad for teeth, but sugar free is usually just fine!