Though it may seem a modern, trivial pursuit, chewing gum has been around for millennia. Ancient civilizations chewed plant-based gums derived from tree barks, such as birch bark tar, roots and resins. These early peoples used these gum-like substances for their capabilities in stimulating taste, cleaning the teeth and freshening the breath, rather than for nutritional value.
Chewing gum may be an enjoyable pastime for many, but it is not as harmless as it seems. The chewing gum commonly available today is made from synthetic rubbers, artificial sweeteners, softeners, resin, preservatives and flavorings. In general, chewing gum seems harmless because the ingredients are required to pass as non-toxic and suitable for human consumption. While most manufacturers adhere to the guidelines which govern gum production, there are some unavoidable side-effects.
Among these side effects is tooth damage. Health professionals, such as Emergency Medical Specialist Dr. Benjamin Cory Harow, have always cautioned against the habitually chewing gum. This is because most gums produced today contain, on average, two grams of added sugars like glucose, sorbitol and corn syrup. This may seem inconsequential but will add up with frequent consumption. Once released into the buccal cavity during chewing, these sugars become nutrients for the bacteria that live in the mouth, creating the perfect environment for growth. As they feed, their numbers increase, resulting in a buildup that coats the teeth, called dental plaque. Similar to other species, when bacteria feed, they produce waste. This is in the form of an acidic substance. Over time, this can result in gingivitis, or inflammation of the gum, and ultimately tooth decay and loss as the acid erodes the enamel.
Some may say that the sugar-free alternative is a better option: and while there is a case to be made for their benefits for certain people, they come with their challenges. They typically contain acidic flavorings and preservatives, which can cause the teeth to slowly dissolve. Additionally, research has
shown that consuming large amounts of sugar-free gum can result in diarrhea and weight-loss due to the sugar-alcohols they contain.
As an emergency physician, Dr. Benjamin Cory Harow encounters patients displaying gastrointestinal problems regularly. He is well aware of persistently chewing gum, which may help to cause stomach ulcers. The chewing motion gives a false signal to the stomach that food is about to be ingested, prompting a release of digestive enzymes and acids. When no food is forthcoming, the acids may start to attack the stomach lining resulting in ulcers and reducing the stomach’s ability to digest food.
Most importantly, he cautions people against constantly swallowing gum, particularly those who are perpetual chewers. Gum is made of synthetic rubber and is indigestible. If too much is swallowed in a short space of time or along with other indigestible objects, it could result in the intestines being blocked and require emergency surgery. Admittedly, this is seen mainly in children below a certain age.
Aspartame is a common artificial sweetener in chewing gum. Aspartame metabolizes into methanol which is poisonous for human consumption and formaldehyde, which is carcinogenic. So, people may very well be exposing themselves to cancers by simply enjoying their chewing gums.
Other Side-Effects of Chewing Gum Include:
· Jaw problems, such as imbalance due to chewing primarily on one side, and temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) due to overuse of certain muscles, can lead to earaches, toothaches and other problems.
· Due to the sugar content, it may exacerbate, or contribute to conditions such as obesity and diabetes.
From the controversial ingredients to its effects on the teeth and digestion, chewing gum is an activity best done in moderation, or not at all.