Bubble Gum: Not Just For Kids Anymore

***UPDATED: December 20, 2013*** While gum chewing can be a great habit, especially in terms of promoting oral health (see below), a new study has found that the sticky stuff may be to blame for chronic migraines and tension headaches in some teens.  The study, published in Pediatric Neurology, followed 30 young patients, all of whom were between the ages of six and 19, had chronic migraine or tension headaches, and chewed gum for at least an hour a day.  The author of the study, Dr. Nathan Watemberg, had 30 patients quit chewing gum for one month.  After that month, 19 of the 30 reported that their headaches had disappeared entirely, and seven had reported a decrease in frequency and intensity. In order to counter-test the results, the doctor asked those 26 to return to their old habits for two weeks.  All of them reported a return of their symptoms within days.  There are a couple of different theories behind the study (and others like it).  Some believe the headaches to be caused by the artificial sweetener in sugar-free gum, aspartame, whiles others blame stress put on the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, from the constant chewing.  The author of this particular study leans toward the TMJ theory as it is known that overuse of the joint causes headaches.

When I think of bubble gum, a very vivid image of the Willy Wonka character, Violet Beauregarde, comes to mind.  You know the one; super-chatty little girl who loudly chomps on a piece of gum she claims she’s been working on for three straight months.  That is until she’s confronted with a new type of gum that Wonka is developing.  This amazing treat represents a three-course meal, which Violet thoroughly enjoys until reaching dessert, blueberry pie.  It’s at this point that her skin starts changing color and she swells into a giant human blueberry! Wonka did warn her that the gum was still under development.  That was always one of my favorite scenes.  As a kid, I enjoyed bubble gum as much as the next; grape Hubba Bubba was my favorite, for flavor and the giant bubbles it produced.  I still enjoy chewing gum, but I have to admit, my motives have changed.  I now enjoy the fresh breath it gives me, along with the slew of other dental benefits gum provides.  Read on to find out why gum isn’t just for kids anymore.

I recently came across an article published on MLive.com, a large local media advertising network in Michigan (“The hidden powers of chewing gum: Why dentists recommend it”).  According to the article, there are several ways in which chewing gum can benefit your health.  One of the most beneficial attributes of gum is its ability to help prevent cavities.  Research shows that enjoying a piece of sugarless gum for 20 minutes following a meal can actually prevent tooth decay by increasing the flow of saliva, which helps neutralize acids and bacteria.  Gum can also help decrease the symptoms of heartburn.  Saliva production is also at play here by acting as an acid buffer.  Because you swallow more when chewing gum, you naturally push acids back out of your esophagus.  But buyers beware; not all gum is effective at protecting your pearly whites.  While all varieties will increase saliva, those that contain sugar actually increase your chance for decay.  To be sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck (or chomp, in this case), look for gum packages with the ADA (American Dental Association) Seal.

While chewing gum can become a part of your daily dental hygiene routine, it should never replace the 3 basic practices that will keep your teeth in tip-top shape.  You should always

  1. brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste,
  2. floss daily,
  3. and visit your dentist biannual for professional cleanings and exams.

And if you find yourself using gum to fight a persistent case of halitosis (bad breath) or dry mouth, talk to your dentist about it.  There’s a chance that these conditions are side effects of a larger issue, such as periodontal disease, which if caught early, can be treated very effectively.  Happy chewing!

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