Don’t Tell Your Kids: Chewing Gum May be Good for You
An 8000-year-old wad of gum tells us that gum chewing has been a part of human development from earliest times. But is it healthy?
- story by Christina Richardson, PhD
Nordqvist was not surprised. He was aware that other prehistoric people chewed on tree resin. The Greeks were big on gum for cleaning teeth and freshening breath. Toothpaste was not in vogue, so folks used whatever they could find to take care of their teeth. Chewing became a habit and we still smack away today.
We all know where gum ends up once the flavor is gone; under chairs at the movie theater, the bottom of our shoes or stuck in kids’ hair or clothing.
Gum can be really nasty stuff! But, is it good for us? Modern gum came to the United States in the 1850s when Mexican general Santa Ana was in New York. He introduced inventor Thomas Adams to the chicle he chewed and the rest is history. The Travel Channel has a good basic history of gum.
The ingredients in gum vary, especially with the sugar-free forms, with Sorbitol or Xylitol among the additives. Peelu gum, for instance, is made with fibers from the Peelu tree. As a pet owner, I caution you to be careful with gum containing Xylitol, as it is highly toxic to dogs and ferrets.
A popular perception is that chewing gum is bad for the teeth and there may be some truth to that - if the gum is sugar based. Gums without sugar actually help in the removal of plaque acid from the mouth and teeth when chewed immediately after eating. This is due to an increase in saliva production which helps flush out bacteria. There is also a correlation between how fast we chew and our excitement level. Sometimes watching a high energy gum chewer is hypnotic at the least, and annoying beyond control on occasion.
If chewing gum calms you down, or helps you think, or exercises your jaw, you can keep at it. Just be aware of how people at whom you direct your mouth react.
Studies and proposed gum reformulations may influence our continuing relationship with gum. A study presented at the 10th anniversary of the International Congress of Behavior Medicine researched gum chewing and determined that chewing gum heightened alertness, reduced anxiety and stress, and helped in overall performance on multi-tasking activities. That is good news if you don’t add to the stress of others with bad gum chewing etiquette. One study with identical twins – one chewing and one not produced some interesting results. The chewer was perceived as friendlier, smarter and more likely to get a date. Go figure on that one.
In medicine there are some interesting findings. The August 2008 issue of Archives of Surgery, one of the Journal of American Medical Association/Archives journals found that chewing gum is a simple resolution to the recovery of bowel function after gastrointestinal surgery. Bradley Kropp with Faculty 1000 Medicine said that he gives his patients a piece of gum following surgery.
He said. “In today’s high-tech, molecular driven scientific world it is nice to come across an idea that can be implemented immediately into our practices without increased heath care costs.”
He added, “Just think how much a pack of gum would cost today had the pharmaceutical industry come across this information first. More details on the study can be found here.
An article in the Atlantic addresses the issue of gum and how much of it is left “places” once chewed. In the United States this is a $2 billion business that creates 100,000 tons of ABC gum. For the uninformed, this stands for "Already Been Chewed." This stuff is messy, costly to remove and yet, think of all the interesting words you utter when having a used gum encounter.
On a final note on the sticky substance, gum reformulation is on the way to address the litter factor with gum. Researchers are looking to create a biodegradable gum that will harden when it is spit out instead of becoming sticky. It would then completely decompose in about two weeks. To really understand why gum litter is a problem you will want to watch the trailer for the film "Dark Side of the Chew" on the movie’s website.
Good old gum!