In 2016, a study in the British Dental Journal found that sugar-free gum could save the United Kingdom millions of pounds in dental costs per year, if only twelve-year-olds would chew more of it.
If that sounds incredible, wait until you hear the numbers from the latest study in the American Journal of Dentistry. But first, how does sugar-free gum actually help reduce those dental costs?
Chewing, Not Gum, Reduces Cavities
Of course, sugar is a nasty culprit for tooth decay no matter how you slice it. The bacteria responsible for cavities love to feed on the sugar debris left on your teeth, and their digestion process creates plaque, which is step one of cavity formation. So it’s a no-brainer that gum has to be sugar-free to benefit your oral health. But what’s replacing that sugar?
There’s been a lot of buzz around xylitol, a popular sugar alternative used in chewing gum, suggesting that it may have antibacterial effects, and could even help teeth remineralize. Unfortunately, research on this front has been inconclusive. But that doesn’t make chewing gum useless against cavities. In fact, what makes gum so effective at preventing decay isn’t the gum itself at all — it’s the act of chewing.
When you go through the motions of chewing, your salivary glands activate, producing more saliva. Saliva already has a job to do in your mouth: It essentially “washes” bacteria and food debris away from your teeth, keeping them clean. By chewing gum, particularly after eating, you can spur the production of saliva to give your teeth a post-meal rinse, preventing the formation of plaque. And the gum itself can also trap many oral bacteria, removing them from your teeth.
If plaque isn’t formed, cavities aren’t formed, and money doesn’t have to be dedicated to treatment for those cavities. Through this process, increased use of sugar-free gum can effectively reduce spending on dental care.
Gum Could Save Billions Worldwide
So what if everyone in the world chewed just one more piece of sugar-free gum a day? A recent study published in the American Journal of Dentistry tackled that question and came up with a staggering estimate: Worldwide, we would save 3.3 billion pounds on dental care. That’s 4.3 billion dollars!
We have a lot of room for improvement when it comes to oral health care worldwide. A recent studied showed that globally, our oral health has not improved in 25 years. And while clearly sugar-free gum could make an impact on that, imagine what kind of impact improved oral hygiene and more accessible dental care could have.
Because despite chewing gum’s benefits, it’s certainly not a replacement for good oral health routines. The best way to prevent cavities is to brush your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, floss daily, and remember to see your dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings.