Should You Be Scared of Sugar-Free Gum?
Posted on Monday, October 24th, 2011
Though Halloween is still a week away, we’ve been getting media releases for weeks now with tips for a healthy and tooth-friendly holiday – though most of them give the kind of advice that dental pros deliver all year round. For instance, these tips from dentist Dr. Raymond Hatland via Chicago Healers will probably sound pretty familiar to regular readers of this blog:
- Wash it down.
When eating Halloween candy, make sure to finish it off with a big glass of water, which will clean sugar residue off the teeth.
- Avoid sticky situations.
When satisfying your candy cravings, keep in mind that sticky sweets like toffee or hard candy that linger in your mouth compound the effects of sugar by offering a sustained food source for bacteria. Remember that it’s not necessarily the amount of sugar that can cause decay but how long the candy stays in the mouth, which is why hard candies like suckers or sticky treats such as caramels and jujubes are poor choices from a dental perspective.
- Chocolate lovers rejoice.
If trying to rationalize a chocolate craving, remember that popping a piece of solid chocolate in your mouth is better than choosing one filled with a gooey center, as the candy filling may stick to the teeth and provide a longer lasting food source for the natural bacteria to feed from in the mouth.
- Mind your whole body.
Halloween comes but once a year, but even several days of excess sugar can wreak havoc not just on your teeth, but elsewhere in the body too. Too much sweet stuff can cause blood sugar to spike and cause an energy crash later on. Look after your dental and general health by regularly reading all the ingredients in all packaged foods before you buy them and seeking out low-sugar alternatives.
It was the next paragraph that caught our attention:
If possible, rinse your mouth with water and brush your teeth thoroughly after exposure to sugars. If you can’t do that right away, keep a supply of sugar free gum with xylitol on hand to help cleanse your mouth.
Earlier this month, you may have seen headlines like this one from the Guardian:
According to the BDJ study mentioned below the headline,
Although the presence of acidic flavourings and preservatives in sugar-free products has received less attention, these additives may have adverse dental health effects, such as dental erosion. Furthermore, the term sugar-free may generate false security because people may automatically believe that sugar-free products are safe on teeth.
We concluded that polyol-based sugar-free products may decrease dental caries incidence but they may bring another dental health risk, dental erosion, if they contain acidic flavouring.
This includes products sweetened with xylitol, a sugar alcohol with proven anti-cavity properties.
So what about that xylitol-sweetened gum recommended by Dr. Hatland?
Chewing gum may be recommended because it increases saliva flow. As we mentioned before, saliva helps keep your teeth healthy. It acts as a perpetual bath for your teeth, helping to wash away food particles and the oral microbes that make up dental biofilm (plaque). It also neutralizes acids and serves as a source of calcium and phosphate particles that help strengthen tooth enamel.
Are these effects enough to counteract the effects of any acidic ingredients in xylitol-sweetened gum? This isn’t mentioned in the abstract, and since the full article is paywall-protected, we don’t know if the researchers addressed the matter or if it’s a subject for future research. It does seem a point worth investigating.
Meantime, it’s worth knowing that the main acidic ingredients in sugarless gum are fruit flavorings, so if you do opt for gum, you might want to stick with mint flavors.
Oh – and be wary of health halos.