Did you know that chewing gum is something humans have done for thousands of years? It’s a bit different now than the original gums that were made from tree sap. (Modern chewing gum is typically made from synthetic rubbers, though there are more natural options available.) It’s well-known that some people (like your third-grade teacher) find gum chewing annoying or rude (especially if you’re a “popper”) and definitely discourage it. Yet there are some surprising benefits of chewing gum worth considering.
What’s in Chewing Gum?
Of course, every brand is different, so there’s a wide range of chewing gum “bases.” You can find more “natural” gums that still use tree sap from Eucalyptus, Corymbia, or Angophora genera (which are often called “gum trees”), but more commonly, modern gums are made with chicle (latex from the sapodilla tree), natural gums, or most often, food-grade human-made latex. In addition, a number of other ingredients can be added, depending on the recipe, to create the right texture and mouthfeel. Some of the most common additives include:
- Resin to help hold it together
- Fillers to provide a more appealing texture
- Preservatives to extend shelf life
- Softeners, like paraffin or vegetable oil waxes, to prevent the gum from getting too hard
- Sweeteners, such as sugar, xylitol, or aspartame
- Flavorings, ranging from naturally sourced (like cinnamon and various mint flavors) to artificial options
Regardless if the ingredients are natural or synthetic, they are made to be food-grade and classified to be “fit for human consumption” before they hit the market even though they are not meant to be swallowed.
What to Watch Out for in Chewing Gums
Now that you’ve seen what goes into chewing gum, you may be wondering if there are ingredients you want to avoid. While chewing gum is generally considered safe, there are ingredients you’ll want to skip. Some of the biggest “offenders” include:
- Sugar. One of the biggest benefits of chewing gum (as we’ll get to below) is how it’s good for your teeth. Unfortunately, if you choose a gum that’s sweetened with sugar, you not only undo that benefit but you make it worse. Chewing on sugar is really bad for your teeth as it can increase plaque and increase tooth decay. In addition, sugar is guilty of a whole host of unhealthy effects in the body. Choose sugar-free gum instead.
- Aspartame. Unfortunately, much of the sugar-free gum is sweetened with the artificial sweetener aspartame. While this does sweeten gum, it can also disrupt the microbiome in the mouth and gut, again doing more harm than good. In addition, aspartame has been associated with headaches, cognitive dysfunction, behavior issues, mood disorders, weight gain, and other negative effects. Choose gum sweetened with xylitol or stevia instead.
- Sugar alcohols. While sugar alcohols are actually a good choice for gum sweeteners, if you chew a lot of gum or if you are sensitive to FODMAPs, sugar alcohols can cause digestive issues, including diarrhea and gas.
The naturally-occurring sugar alcohol xylitol is considered one of the best options for sweeteners for gum as there’s a great deal of evidence that it helps reduce the formation of plaque and may prevent tooth decay. Again, while it is safe for humans, watch to make sure you aren’t sensitive to its effects on your digestion. (It can also work as a mild laxative.) NOTE: In addition, if you have a dog, please make sure to keep any gum, candies, breath mints, or anything else that contains xylitol away from them as it can be extremely toxic and even deadly for dogs.
13 Health Benefits of Chewing Gum
An estimated 59% of the U.S. population regularly chews gum. It can be used to reduce bad breath and reduce dry mouth, but are there really any other benefits of chewing gum? The short answer? Yes! Here are 13 benefits of chewing gum.
1. Protects Your Teeth
This is perhaps the best-known benefit of chewing gum (as long as it’s sugar-free). 1 As mentioned above, this can be especially true if the gum contains xylitol, which helps prevent the growth of bacteria that leads to tooth decay, helps reduce dental plaque, helps decrease the incidence of dental cavities, and may even help remineralize cavities. 2
For the best results, chew gum for about 20 minutes after you finish eating to remove food debris, neutralize acids, and stimulate saliva, which can help prevent tooth decay and gingivitis and even help strengthen tooth enamel. 3 This is because along with the increased saliva, the body also releases more calcium and phosphate, which can then be used to strengthen tooth enamel.
Of course, chewing gum is no substitute for regular brushing and flossing, but between brushes, it can be a useful tool to help keep your mouth clean and fresh.
2. Reduces Bad Breath
You may think you’re freshening your breath due to the minty flavor; however, chewing any flavor of sugar-free gum may help freshen your breath as chewing gum increases the amount of saliva in your mouth (by up to 10 times). To cut to the chase, a dry mouth usually smells bad. So, the extra moisture helps your breath smell better. In addition, chewing gum reduces the bad bacteria that causes bad breath.
3. Enhances Cognitive Function
Do you want to enhance memory, focus, understanding, and decision making? Chewing gum has actually been found to help improve cognitive function. In one small study, for example, folks who chewed gum while taking memory tests saw improved scores—by 25% for short-term memory and 36% for long-term memory. 4 Other research has found that chewing may help preserve and promote cognitive performance as we age. 5
4. Reduces Stress
In another small study, university students who chewed gum for two weeks reported decreased stress, especially when it came to their school workload. 6 This may be in part because the process of chewing has been associated with a decrease in the stress hormones like cortisol. 7
5. Improves Feelings of Well-Being
Can something as simple as chewing gum have health benefits like reduced stress, fatigue, anxiety, and depression and help lead to a better mood? According to one study from Cardiff University, the answer is yes. 8
6. Boosts Attention and Work Performance
Another study found that chewing gum while working is linked to greater productivity and can help with alertness and attention, leading to enhanced work performance. 9 And chewing gum is well known for helping prevent sleepiness to promote attention for people as they work, learn, and even drive. 10 For even better fatigue fighting, go with a minty flavor.
7. Provides Weight-Loss Support
When you’re craving something sweet but don’t want to sabotage your diet, a stick of gum may be the perfect solution as it’s both low in calories and tastes sweet. Research has found that chewing gum can increase satiety, 11 reduce cravings (especially for sweets), 12 decrease appetite, 13 decrease afternoon snacking (especially for high-carbohydrate foods), 14 increase energy expenditure (by up to 19%), 15 and increase metabolic rate. 16 There is some research that also doesn’t show much, if any, effect on weight loss, but it might be worth giving it a try to see if this benefit of chewing gum works for you.
8. Dampens Nausea
If you feel nauseous or have lower abdominal discomfort due to motion sickness, medication, morning sickness, or even after surgery, chewing gum may help. 19, 20 In one study, gum was even more effective—by up to 75% more—than an anti-nausea drug. For even greater results, you may want to seek out gum made with real ginger. 21
9. Provides Support for Heartburn and Acid Reflux
Both heartburn and reflux can be uncomfortable. One small study suggests that chewing gum (with or without bicarbonate) helps increases the pH (making it more alkaline) in the esophagus and improves the clearance rate of reflux, so it may be a useful adjunct to your usual therapy. 17 Because chewing gum increases saliva and makes it more alkaline, you’ll likely swallow more frequently, which helps neutralize the acids and reduce inflammation, helping to soothe the esophagus. 18
10. Gets Things Moving
Speaking of discomfort, if things aren’t moving (i.e., when you’re constipated), one cheap and accessible potential remedy is chewing gum. You see, it can help increase production of gastric juices without having to eat. It’s even recommended for patients after surgery to get everything moving again. 22
11. Relieves Air Pressure Ear Pain
If you don’t already make sure you have a packet of gum handy before you fly or take a drive up into the high country, now’s a good time to start. Changing air pressure can be annoying and uncomfortable, and you’ll often see people opening and closing their mouths, yawning, and tugging on their ears to help them “pop.” Or… you can just chew a piece of gum, as the jaw movement combined with saliva production can help equalize ear pressure, allowing you to feel normal again. This is especially important during take-off and landing for flights to protect your ears.
12. Helps Fight Addiction
If you are trying to give up nicotine, caffeine, or sugar, chewing gum may help. Because it reduces cravings, provides a diversion, and may help lower anxiety, it could be a helpful tool when trying to give up a less healthy habit. 23
13. Eliminates Earworms
If you are like 90% of the population, you are victim to earworms at least once a week. Not sure what an earworm is? It’s that little loop of music that gets into your head and plays over and over again, driving you nuts. No, it’s not actually harmful, but it can definitely be annoying. There are many ideas on how to get rid of an earworm. For example, you can listen to the whole tune, listen to a “cure” tune, try to distract yourself, or… chew gum. Even research supports that chewing gum can help get that dang earworm out of your head so you can think clearly again. 24
4 Side Effects from Chewing Gum
Along with all the health benefits of chewing gum, of course, can come some downsides. And the benefits of chewing gum can come with a downside. Side effects of chewing gum can include:
- Digestive Distress. Again, gum sweetened with xylitol or other sugar alcohols can cause tummy issues, including a laxative effect, gas and bloating, and even diarrhea in some individuals.
- Tooth Damage. While chewing sugar-free gum is good for the teeth, chewing sugar-sweetened gum clearly is not. The excess sugar in the mouth increases bad bacterial and can lead to accumulating plaque and tooth decay.
- Jaw Pain. If you chew gum a lot, it can cause or at least worsen a condition called temporomandibular joint disorder, more commonly referred to as TMJ or TMD. This can lead to not only joint pain in the jaw but headaches. 25
- Headaches. Even if you don’t have a jaw issue, chewing gum has been tied to tension headaches as well as migraines in some people, so if you do suffer from headaches, you may want to avoid or limit chewing gum despite the potential benefits. 26
Benefits of Chewing Gum: A Recap
If you want to freshen your breath before a meeting with your boss, coworker, or even a date, then you’ll likely reach for a piece of gum. And with it, you’ll enjoy a whole host of other benefits. Of course, not all gum is created equal; some more “natural” brands to look for include Glee, XyloBurst, The Humble Co, Project 7, Chewsy, or Pur.
Chewing gum isn’t for everyone, though, especially if you suffer from headaches or digestive distress. So, it’s up to you to determine if the benefits of chewing gum outweigh the costs. If you do choose to chew, just remember to dispose of your gum responsibly—in the trash, or whenever available, a Gumdrop bin for recycling…rather than on the ground or underside of your desk at school or work. 😉
And again, if you do have a dog in your home and you chew gum that contains xylitol, please make sure you keep the gum far away.