Sugar-free gum is a great alternative to sugared gum, and it helps foster good oral health. However, there are some points of confusion that we’d like to clear up.
TRUTH: Chewing sugar-free gum promotes the production of saliva. Yes, that’s a good thing! Saliva washes away food particles, neutralizes acids in the mouth, provides disease-fighting substances, and carries calcium and phosphate to help strengthen tooth enamel.
MYTH: All sugar-free is the same. The most important thing is getting your saliva going without the use of sugar. But we suggest gum or mints with xylitol (rather than aspartame or sorbitol) because studies suggest it promotes good plaque pH levels. Look for gum with xylitol as the first ingredient, and look for products with the ADA seal (American Dental Association).
TRUTH: You have to chew for a while for gum to work. When you hear about studies where sugar-free gum is linked to fewer cavities, it’s predicated on the idea that you’ll be chewing for a while. About 20 minutes should do it.
MYTH: It has to be gum to work. Xylitol-based, sugar-free candies are an acceptable alternative. They may even be preferred for some patients, such as those with TMJ. As with gum, duration is important. Choose a hard candy and let it melt slowly in your mouth — don’t chew it up.
Myth: Sugar-free gum causes side effects. Xylitol has no known toxicity to humans. While everyone’s body is different, xylitol is well studied. You shouldn’t expect any side effects from chewing a few pieces a day. However, dogs can have a toxic and life-threatening reaction to xylitol, so be sure to keep it away from pets.
Sugar-free gum, even with xylitol, isn’t a “silver bullet” answer for good teeth. There’s no substituting for brushing, flossing and regular hygiene appointments at the dentist’s office. But it’s a useful tool to help you fight cavities and maintain your oral health.