When it comes to chewing gum, you're probably thinking there's no limit, as there's practically zero calories and it helps entertain your mouth (saving you from, perhaps, some unwanted calories during the afternoon munchies). However, even with seemingly harmless foods, it's important to make sure you're not going overboard. Before going through a pack or more a day, here's what you should know about your chewing gum habit, so you're still enjoying a few sticks, but within a reasonable amount.
First off, chewing gum is actually pretty good for your mouth. "Chewing gum stimulates saliva flow, and the increased saliva in your mouth helps neutralize and wash off food debris and plaque acids in the mouth that can cause tooth decay," Michael J. Kowalczyk, DDS, a dentist in Hinsdale, IL, told POPSUGAR.
It's even better post-meal. "It is particularly beneficial to chew gum after having a meal because this is the period when people tend to have more food debris/plaque acids in their mouth. The increase in saliva flow will bring calcium and phosphate, which help strengthen enamel," he said. In fact, some gum products contain an additive called casein phosphopeptide-amorphous calcium phosphate (CPP-ACP), which is said to remineralize and harden tooth enamel, thereby making your teeth stronger, he said.
It turns out, chewing excess gum can affect your digestion, for the worse. "Chewing gum definitely has its pros and cons, depending on the individual and the reasons for chewing it. In some people chewing gum can cause gas and bloating, which will vary from person to person," Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club, told POPSUGAR. "If you suck in air while chewing, that will certainly increase the likelihood of discomfort," she said.
Also, some varieties are sweetened with sugar alcohols, like sorbitol or mannitol, which can lead to GI distress in some people, and the more you chew, the worse it will be, she added. "Xylitol is typically a better-tolerated sugar alcohol, so if you are sensitive, look for a brand with that ingredient," she suggested.
Plus, it could affect your appetite, although it's based on the individual. "Some people have told me chewing gum stimulates their appetite, others swear it takes away their hunger," she said. But, chewing gum really shouldn't affect blood sugar if it's sugar-free. "There should be no effect on blood sugar from sugar-free gum, however, sugar-containing gum can certainly raise blood sugar, but each piece contains approximately 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar, so the number of pieces chewed will play a role," she said.
What's more, "it is the 'sugar' in gum that is harmful to your teeth. The sugar-free types of gum are sweetened by products that do not cause cavities (aspartame, sorbitol, or mannitol)," said Dr. Kowalczyk.
Chew gum! "Chewing gum is completely safe to the oral tissues, and because the mouth will be cleaner after using sugar-free gum, [and] there will be healthier enamel, less cavities, and less gingivitis in people who regularly chew sugar-free gum," said Dr. Kowalczyk. "I would only advise people to chew gum less frequently if they start to develop sore jaw muscles, which can become overworked by people who chew a lot of gum," he said.
However, if you're concerned about any tummy issues or changes in appetite, don't go through a pack, stick after stick. "I never recommend chewing gum without good reason," said Harris-Pincus. "As little as possible is my suggestion because you are either chewing sugar-containing gum, which provides extra calories and risk for tooth decay, or sugar-free gum, which can contain artificial sweeteners," she said.
It definitely serves its purpose on occasion, she said. "I recommend gum to my clients under certain circumstances. When at a party, if you are done eating but are still tempted by the buffet or remaining dessert, chewing gum can cleanse your palate and deter you from eating more," she explained. Or, after a meal, like Dr. Kowalczyk explained.
Plus, it's really not that bad of a habit, when you think about it. "Sugar free gum is a great tool to deter you from smoking or overeating," she said. "If the choice is smoking or chewing gum, then, by all means, choose gum. However, always having a piece in your mouth is likely excessive," she said.