Chewing Gum and How It Affects Your Teeth

woman blowing a gum bubble 2

Here are some chewing gum facts for our readers. Chewing gum is everywhere. That’s not an opinion; it’s a fact. We see it at checkout when we’re at the supermarket; we see it in TV commercials, radio, and social media ads. Not to mention that the idea of chewing gum is pretty standard for us all.

Children chew it during class; adults do so during their work time. We take a piece of chewing gum to help us stay awake or just because we like the flavor sold by our favorite brand.

Some chewing gum brands even receive a seal of approval from de American Dental Association (ADA). Join us in this short discussion of the history of chewing gum and its implications for your dental health.

The History of Chewing Gum

In our history of odd oral cleaning techniques and tools, we’ve used animal hair to make toothbrushes, crushed shells to use as toothpaste and re-purposed tortoise blood as a mouthwash.

Yes, humanity has had its ups and downs when discovering and designing medical technologies. Chewing gum is also a part of this series of discoveries, and it has a long and fascinating history.

For 5,000 years, humans have enjoyed chewing on bark tar, resin from the mastic tree, and other plants and grasses.

American Indigenous populations made a form of gum from spruce tree sap. But for most of our history, we have used chicle, a natural gum made from trees, in a similar way that we produce natural rubber.

Political reform in Guatemala during the 1950s meant that big chewing gum companies like Wrigley no longer had access to chicle, so by the mid-1960’s most gum was produced from a butadiene-based synthetic rubber.

Prehistoric Gum

Did you know that chewing gum has existed in some form or another since the Neolithic period?

6,000-year-old chewing gum, made from birch bark tar, was found by researchers with teeth marks in it. Tree bark was a prevalent source of gum, and many cultures derived gum from trees.

Ancient Greeks

The ancient Greeks didn’t invent gum, nor were they the first to chew it. However, they are one of the most well-known historical cultures that chewed gum en masse.

The ancient Greeks chewed the resin contained in the bark of the mastic tree. Grecian women would chew the bark to clean their teeth and freshen their breath.

This natural product has antiseptic properties, and the Greeks believed it could contribute to better oral health.

Ancient Mayans

The Ancient Mayans of Central America were very advanced, creating an intricate calendar and developing fundamental astronomy and writing systems with their own hieroglyphs.

The Mayans were way ahead of their time in terms of trade, technology, and architecture, but they were also very studious farmers, which led them to the sapodilla tree.

The Mayans would boil the sapodilla tree sap and use it as an adhesive and in religious ceremonies. Sometimes, adults would also give this boiled sap to children to chew, and they called it “cha.”

Modern Gum

Gum had a major advancement in 1848 when American businessman John B. Curtis saw a market opportunity for chewing gum.

Curtis began making gum out of the spruce tree resin – a popular form of gum among Native Americans at the time. Curtis called his gum “State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum.”

For the first few years of his new business, selling gum was hard. However, Curtis saw a significant uptick in sales when he started rolling his gum sugar, and he began expanding his operations.

Curtis’ business – Curtis & Son – is credited with inventing the machinery responsible for mass-producing gum.

Are You Concerned About Chewing Gum?

As entertaining as it may be to learn about the history of things we give for granted nowadays, you may have come here hoping to learn more about how this product affects your dental health.

You may have noticed some ancient cultures thought of chewing gum as medicinal, good for dental hygiene, and some even used it in religious settings. Maybe, you’re still wondering: is chewing gum good for your teeth? How is gum bad for your teeth?

Let’s find out

Will Swallowed Gum Harm Me?

Gum made from synthetic rubber may not sound too appetizing; however, gum is generally harmless to your body.

Have you ever heard people claim that swallowed gum will stay in your stomach for “seven years” or that it will “stick to your lungs”? While it is usually a good idea to simply spit out used gum, you will only be at risk of a blocked intestinal tract if you swallow an absurdly large quantity of gum.

Your teeth, however, may be another story.

Chewing Gum and Your Teeth

Because many types of gum contain sugar as a primary ingredient, frequently chewing gum use can be harmful to your teeth.

Sugar feeds the bacteria that cause plaque, which in turn hammers away at the enamel on your teeth.

A lot of sugary gum means that bacteria are getting a lot of food to grow, leading to more plaque around your teeth and contributing to excessive tooth decay.

Additionally, while many people chew gum for fresh breath, the result of extra bacteria (caused by the excess sugar) is even more bad breath.

chewing gum bubble

Is Sugar-Free Gum Good for Your Teeth?

Studies have shown that sugar-free chewing gum is good for your teeth. This article reviewing the existing literature, concludes by suggesting that sugar-free gum can be good for people’s dental health.

When you chew, your mouth produces saliva, helping wash away food particles. In fact, saliva is your body’s first natural defense against the bacteria in your mouth.

Furthermore, some sugar-free gum uses a natural sugar substitute called xylitol, which reduces cavities and protects teeth. Even with xylitol, however, chewing gum can never replace brushing and flossing.

Sugar-free gum can be a good alternative for people who love to chew gum and protect their teeth.

Ask the Best Pediatric Dentist Katy Has to Offer

If you have any more questions, talk to your pediatric dentist in Katy today! Children love chewing gum, but not all products are suitable for their teeth. Likewise, if you need help breaking bad habits, we can also help you and your kid.

Get in touch with us, set an appointment online, and we’ll do everything we can to help your kid achieve the best version possible of their dental health.