The Sticky Truth About Chewing Gum

by Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist July 14, 2011

Chewing gum is a popular activity for people of all ages.  I remember becoming quite proficient at blowing very large bubbles at summer camp one year.  From then on, chewing bubble gum became a favorite childhood pastime of mine.  Besides the bubble blowing, I got pretty good at peeling the gum off my face too!

While chewing gum may be fun and a good way to kill time or stave off boredom, is it a healthy activity?   It seems like some folks chew gum every single day.   Are there any health issues to be aware of from too much chewing?

Chewing Gum is Full of Chemicals and Artificial Sweeteners

Probably the number one reason to avoid most chewing gums is that they are loaded with chemical and synthetic ingredients.  GMO corn syrup, artificial colors and flavors and chemical sweeteners along with many other unpronounceables are enough to cause any label reading parent to steer clear of these seemingly harmless treats.

It is surprising how some caregivers who would never dream of giving a child a diet soda don’t think twice about doling out sugarless gum with similar neurotoxic sweeteners.

Healthfood stores do offer some decent alternatives, but in my experience kids don’t seem much interested in them.  They want the brands their friends chew that come in the the brightly colored packaging and have everlasting synthetic flavors that don’t diminish even after many minutes of chewing.

To keep things simple, I’ve made the habit of simply not buying any gum.  My kids do occasionally get a wad of gum at parties and whatnot, but since this is an exception, I try to look the other way and realize that this stuff can’t always be avoided.   I do try to make sure they don’t chew it for long though!

Chewing Gum Uses Up Valuable Digestive Enzymes

It is not well known that the amount of digestive enzymes your body can produce in a given lifetime is relatively finite.  Chewing stimulates the secretion of digestive enzymes to prepare for food that never arrives in the stomach.  Doesn’t it seem like a waste to use up your precious digestive enzyme reserve of these valuable, live proteins on the useless activity of chewing gum?

If you chew gum frequently between meals, it is very feasible that you are using up your digestive enzyme reserves so that the next time you eat, you won’t have enough digestive enzymes on hand to fully digest the meal.   It is conceivable then, that frequent gum chewing gum can provide the perfect backdrop for the development of digestive disorders over time.

If you are already suffering from digestive complaints of any kind, gum chewing should definitely be avoided!

Chewing Gum Contributes to the Development of TMJ and Other Jaw Problems

Oral surgeons at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas contend that too much gum chewing causes jaw stress.  Dr. Sinn, a UT Southwestern oral surgeon, warns that jaw soreness, jaw “clicking” or pain in the jaw, head, or neck can be signs of TMJ syndrome and that gum chewing should be discontinued should such symptoms emerge.

Given that gum chewing is commonly used to relieve stress, Dr. Sinn suggests other methods for reducing tension such as squeezing a ball, relaxation techniques or regular exercise to avoid the risk of chronic jaw problems.

Chewing Gum Releases Mercury from Amalgam Fillings

Probably the most important reason to abstain from chewing gum is that it releases mercury from dental amalgam fillings.  A Swedish study found that people with silver fillings who chew gum for 5 hours or more each day had significantly higher levels of mercury in their blood and urine than those people with silver fillings who chewed gum infrequently.

Mercury levels in the blood, urine, and breath at exhalation increased in proportion to the number of silver fillings each study participant had.

Given that mercury is neurotoxic in any amounts in the body, it seems that chewing gum is an activity that should be undertaken with extreme caution if one has even a single silver filling.

Skip the Gum if Pregnant with Silver Fillings

For pregnant women with silver fillings, chewing gum can prove toxic to the fetus should any mercury whatsoever be released into the bloodstream.  Many pregnant women chew gum to help relieve heartburn or indigestion and yet the dangers of this activity if one has dental amalgams are not readily provided at prenatal visits even though mercury easily crosses the placenta.

Can Chewing Gum Ever Be Helpful?

I remember after one particular dental visit years ago, my jaw became painfully sore.   The dentist had obviously overextended the jaw joint and the inflammation and pain was really excruciating for days on end.  I tried to not talk much and eat only soft liquid foods to no avail.  The joint just didn’t seem to get any better.

Finally, I decided I would try to strengthen my jaw by chewing gum for brief periods of time and see if that helped to alleviate my discomfort.   After about a week of chewing gum for short intervals each day, my joint pain began to dissipate and finally disappear altogether.

Chewing gum might also be helpful after meals when additional enzymes are needed for digestion.  Chewing gum for a few minutes after eating does seem to help some folks avoid indigestion, heartburn, or reflux.

In some circumstances such as these, chewing gum can be therapeutic. In most cases, though, it should be avoided as an activity that really is not very health promoting.

Sarah, TheHealthyHomeEconomist.com

Sources:  Chewing Gum Releases Mercury into Blood and Urine

Health Watch – Gum Chewing

Picture Credit

 

Comments (63)

  1. I’m sorry…but I cannot remember the last time I read a positive blog post here. Every.single.thing is a complaint or gloom and doom, bashing someone or something. Where is the “here’s something great and exciting in the world today! here’s something to make you smile! here’s something someone is doing right!”. Your readers could sure use it…

    Reply
    • Sarah, TheHealthyHomeEconomist

      I don’t think this post is negative at all. Just talking about things to watch out for if you chew a lot of gum. At the end I talk about when chewing gum can be helpful and where it helped me in the past. I thought it was a very balanced post overall.

      Reply
    • Pavil, the Uber Noob July 14, 2011 at 2:03 pm

      I, for one, am grateful for Sarah’s posts. They are poignant, informative and practical. The Real Food Media bloggers are an outstanding source for people trying to get the most health and vitality for their families. We should be able to get this kind of information from government agencies and news outlets, but they are so beholden to large corporations, that they really can’t trusted for reliable information.

      Good job, Sarah.

      Reply
    • Amy Durham,
      If you don’t like the blog…why are you here and reading it?! The great majority of us appreciate Sarah and all the information she provides!

      Reply
  2. I have Sjogren’s Syndrome and one of the most annoying parts of that AI disease is dry mouth. I’ve tried numerous gums over the past eight years and find none of them help. I tried xylitol and that burned my tongue so bad I was in worse shape than when I started. I’ve tried lozenges and mints also, to no avail. I finally resorted to ordering some real, old fashioned gum (yes you can still get it). I try to chew it for short periods of time and it does help, but nighttime is the worst.

    When I was younger I chewed enough Doublemint gum to kill a small horse. I even slept with it in my mouth, how bad is that? Bad breath (whether you really had it or not) was such a stigma in the 70′s and 80′s that I wasn’t going to take that chance!

    I now make my own dental products and am happy with them.

    Reply
  3. I do know that a retired pharmacist had recommended my child chew xylitol based gum once when they suffered from an earache…maybe was suppose to help relieve the pressure in the ear? Either way, I think there are some pretty decent alternatives to the bad gum choices. Sometimes you just can’t “take everything” away from kids or they end up rebelling!

    Reply
  4. i find gum to be helpful after taking FCLO. whatever gets me to take it, i’ll do! i wish there were some better natural options, but they really don’t compare to the nasty fake stuff.

    Reply
  5. I found this entry very informative as I chew a lot of gum for only brief periods of time but I had never before considered it a risk @ all. It is true that I would never drink a diet soda or something w/ artificial sweetners but I chew gum in my mouth! Thanks for bringing this stange, but helpful topic up…especially w/c I have silver fillings! I think I will find some good breathmints!

    Reply
  6. Its nice that you share your opinion. Without out any sources/studies listed, this is just that an opinion. If you want to dissuade someone with a health background of any kind we’re going to want the evidence to support your claims. I’m not saying your wrong in what you believe, I’m just saying that more needs to be put into it if you want to express more than an opinion.

    Reply
      • Actually, Sarah… you’re not even quoting your sources correctly. Nowhere in the UT Southwestern Medical Center report does it definitavely say “Chewing Gum Contributes to the Development of TMJ and Other Jaw Problems”. Nowhere does it sasy “will” or “does”.. it says “could” and “may”. And as for chewing gum releasing the mercury from fillings… not sure about your dentist, but mine replaces all the mercury fillings with ceramic fillings in all his patients. Non-issue. Not ALL dentists are against chewing gum my dear… ever hear of Trident? Sugarless and “recommended by 4 out of 5 dentists”.

        Reply
  7. My nutritionist friend told me about chewing beewax – she said it might exercise your face muscles and reduce/prevent wrinkles. In Russia I remember we chewed the sticky part of the tree trunks (sap is it?).It was prepared (boiled I think ) to get a constistency of a chewing gum.

    Reply
  8. I stopped chewing gum quite a while ago, but I haven’t found a good, natural breathmint. Anyone have any suggestions? I often grab some Tic-Tacs for occasional use, but I know that’s not a good option at all.

    Reply
    • I occassionaly use Spry mints (with xylitol) that I get from my local health food store or vitacost. They have some great flavors Lemon burst and berryblast are great! Not sure whats in tic tacs but I’m assuming these may be better :) So you may try them.

      Also Sarah, we don’t generally chew gum very often but when we do we chew Spry gum with xylitol. Is that an okay alternative or is there things in that I maybe over looking? Or possibly another brand that may be better? Anything you know about it would be helpful :) Thanks so much!

      Reply
  9. I love these posts because they help me become more aware of even the little things, which can over time have big consequences. Thank you Sarah and please keep teaching us!!

    Reply
    • not sure how Sarah feels about this, but I tried Steviadent & liked it. I got it from vitacost.com (also a good place to find other discounted supplements & personal care items- not affiliated).

      Reply
    • We use Spry gum on occasion made with xylitol you can also order through vitacost. Don’t know if it’s the best alternative or not? But as far as flavor go we think it’s great

      Reply
  10. I’ve thought chewing a good xylitol gum after eating helps with cavities? Can’t remember where I heard that. I found gum helped my older boys with molar teething. I’ve always been super picky about the type I give them since I read my first ingredients list on a pack of trident that claimed xylitol on the front but really had all sorts of other sugars. I started ordering online and from coops. They like all kinds, from minty to fruity. They love what I call candy gum of course but that is a rare treat indeed and usually comes from daddy. We don’t chew every day but I find it craves a sweet craving and can keep them from begging for treats! My favorite right now is peelu citrus flavor. :)

    One time when I was not as caeful and aware as I am now, I let my oldest eat lots of gum, he was teething and it made him feel better but he didnt know how not to swallow it. He ended up getting so constipated! I felt horrible but I have learned and it hasn’t happened since.

    Reply
  11. My dentist also recommended xylitol gum after meals because both the xylitol and the increase in saliva helps to fight off the germs that cause cavities.

    Reply
  12. Xylitol is a sweetener from birch trees. Trident gum uses it in some of their gums, but there’s still the other stuff. I have chewed wax before, but I am not an avid chewer.

    Reply
  13. Chewing gum gives me a migraine in no time. I have thought it was the tension being created by chewing and chewing. Additives could be playing a part too though.

    Reply
  14. A good brand of chemical-free gum is Glee (http://gleegum.com/). It’s made with natural chicle from tree sap, the way gum used to be, and it doesn’t contain artificial sweeteners or preservatives or any toxic stuff. The flavor doesn’t last forever, that’s the only drawback, but it lasts long enough to freshen your mouth after eating. I have digestive issues and so have learned to chew gum only after meals, and not between meals so I don’t waste those digestive enzymes!

    Reply
  15. Sarah, I enjoy your posts. You give lots of great info. I pass the links on to friends. Thanks for all you do!
    What have you found to be the best toothpaste?

    Reply
  16. I haven’t chewed gum in thirty years, didn’t really see the point and did see the negatives, as Sarah has shown us. However my lifestyle puts me away from home for whole days, often without the opportunity to brush my teeth. I read that chewing sugarless gum was good for avoiding cavities so I was interested in reading this post.

    However, despite its true info, the fact is, the two sources only warn against overuse. I mean, five hours of chewing gum per day(the amount the warning in Source #1 was based on), that’s a lot, at least to me. Do very many people chew that much? If we take that use down to an hour or less, to gain any specific benefits, is it any worse than any of the other things we do? Everything has a downside if we overdo. The second source didn’t even state how much was too much. Like everything, if we hurt, if we feel a bad result, we should stop. If we do anything at all for a very long time, we should examine our choices and consider if we’re doing a good thing for ourselves.

    We can overdo anything – gum, meat, dairy, fat, exercise, we can even love someone too much. This particular post doesn’t seem like such a great perspective, to warn us against overdoing when probably hardly any of these readers chew five hours of gum a day. Unless the true point of the post is about overdoing, and how anything can be harmful if done in excess.

    My question would be, is there a gum that might help us in any way and how, and is there any research that states that if we use gum judiciously, can we still expect to experience major detrimental effects? It’s hard to give up everything, and is this really an important thing to give up, if we see a beneficial use.

    Sarah, I’m like you and a lot of your readers, I want to do everything the best I can. It’s just such an imperfect world and I think we have to keep that in mind or we’ll go nuts. Thankyou Sarah, for opening up this issue. Maybe there’s more info out there somewhere on this question?

    Reply
    • I think the biggest takeaway here is just being aware of all the nasty, chemical, fake-food ingredients found in most chewing gum — if we wouldn’t eat those ingredients in a food product, we shouldn’t be chomping on them in gum form, either. I know my own mother, for example, fails to see the problem with consuming chemical sweetener-laden mints and gum, and she’s the one who introduced me to real food!

      Reply
  17. Just about the only time I chew gum these days is when traveling — to relieve ear pressure while flying. Yawning helps too, but if I have any kind of congestion from allergies or a cold, I need the gum.

    I used to chew gum for breath purposes, but I noticed that ever since I started eating real food, and significantly decreasing my intake of the standard stuff, I haven’t felt the need to. I even brush my teeth less frequently! They just don’t feel like they need it more than once a day or so. I still eat plenty of grains and starches though (I am trying to gain weight), so I’m a little surprised by that, since I know that those can be big culprits of oral health problems, tooth decay, etc. Eh, fingers crossed, I guess!

    Reply
  18. Yes, Emily, exactly. I wouldn’t want to use gum with harmful ingredients, and for all I know, there aren’t any good ones without them (that I would enjoy).

    Reply
  19. A funny note – don’t know how healthy it was but my father in law, who was a country boy, used to tell us about how he chewed the sap from the sweetgum tree like chewing gum. I later read that the sap is mildly narcotic. So this sweet conservative man who had to be directed by his physician before he would drink a sip of wine even for his health (a benefit his doctor believed in due to the grapes), was consuming a drug without his knowing it. We never told him!

    Reply
  20. Fascinating post! I was not aware of many of the reasons NOT to chew gum. Will have to share this one with my clients. I don’t chew it often but am going to take it out entirely now.

    Reply
  21. Even “healthy” gum is usually made from plastic. Even Glee is made from polyvinyl acetate, just like all the rest. We don’t know what’s in the plastic portion – could be BPA, or other “platicizers” or worse, gum manufacturers aren’t sharing that info so we really can’t make an informed choice. Plastic is a petroleum product, so if you are concerned about the price of gas, peak oil or the polluting of the oceans with plastic, there are three good reasons to skip gum. Here’s the source for my comments: http://myplasticfreelife.com/2010/01/chewing-on-plastic-yum/

    Reply
    • Glee is a great gum. It contains ‘pure cane sugar, rice syrup, natural flavorings and colorings’ and is ‘Vegetarian, Additive Free, Lactose Free, Dairy Free, Wheat Free, Gluten Free, Casein Free, Egg Free, Yeast Free, Nut Free, and Peanut Free.’ Compared to the regular crud in the checkout lane this gum is relatively benign.

      Reply
  22. “Glee is made from polyvinyl acetate, just like all the rest.”

    Peggy….. where did you get this info from ? I’m interested because when I looked up this company, some time ago, it was/is my understanding that they use chicle from the sapodilla tree. It is what they say they are still using.

    I do get it for my kids every now and again, not very often at ALL. Like twice a year. Still I’d like to know.
    Thank you.

    Reply
    • Glee is a great gum and their website is made from Chicle. It also contains ‘pure cane sugar, rice syrup, natural flavorings and colorings’ and is ‘Vegetarian, Additive Free, Lactose Free, Dairy Free, Wheat Free, Gluten Free, Casein Free, Egg Free, Yeast Free, Nut Free, and Peanut Free.’ Compared to the regular crud in the checkout lane this gum is relatively benign. It looses it’s flavor kind of fast though. *shrug* but I guess when I’ve eaten onions I’m not sure I’ll care.

      Reply
      • oops I mean on their website is says it’s made from chicle. Although now that I see that I think it’d be funny to see a website made of chicle.

        Reply
  23. My problem with this article is that the concept that digestive enzymes are finite is mildly ridiculous. What enzymes? Lipids, Potassium bicarbonate, Mucin, Pepsinogen, Trypsinogen…the list goes on and on and despite the fact that there are many people who have lived well into their 90′s without a tons of problems digesting their food, it makes me wonder if this is a fact? Where did you get your information? While I understand that gum isn’t great, the amalgam filling warning is very specific but all eating leads to a release of mercury…not just gum. In fact the release of mercury while chewing gum would be minimal compared to that of eating a steak, or a salad and taking your time to chew. Most gum loses it’s flavor after 15 minutes, but most meals last for a half an hour. The only way to change that is to have them removed. I appreciate that you want to help people, and some of your posts are very important but in this case I’m not so sure about your facts.

    Reply
  24. This article is full of errors and omissions.

    One – digestive enzymes are not finite. This is a complete fabrication. They are continually replenished by the body.

    Two – chewing sugarfree gum in moderation can be good for dental health, as they contain polyols (ie Sorbitol, Xylitol) instead of normal sugars. Bacteria that cause dental problems are unable to use polyols as a normal food source like they can with other sugars.

    http://jada.ada.org/content/139/12/1602.full

    Reply
  25. Huh, gum? I love gum, who doesn’t? Gum is like candy only you can’t swallow and it sticks to undersides of furniture and sometimes I chew gum and it gets stuck in my cat’s fur. And then I have to cut it off and one time i accidentally cut him. Oops but I still love gum.

    Reply
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