Sugar-free chewing gum – Ingredients, benefits, and downsides

Many people switch to sugar-free gum from the regular variety, thinking it has no harmful health effects. Some do so because of ongoing health complications like diabetes. While it is true that chewing sugar-free gum may have specific benefits and could help one improve their overall well-being, it also has significant downsides. Below are a few important things one should know before heading to the store and buying a pack.

Ingredients in sugar-free gum
Many brands manufacture sugar-free gum, each using different ingredients to give their product a distinct taste and set it apart. While they do not use sugar, they use substitutes that mimic the taste of sugar. Some of these substitutes are artificial sweeteners, while others are derived from natural sources. Let’s look at a few examples:

  • Xylitol, sorbitol, isomalt, and maltitol are common sugar-free sweeteners derived from fruits, including berries.
  • Aspartame is an artificial sweetener made from two amino acids: phenylalanine and aspartic acid. It is among the most common ingredients in sugar-free chewing gum.
  • Stevia is a natural sweetener derived from the leaves of the stevia plant.

Besides the above, sugar-free gum may contain chemical and natural ingredients that help provide texture, long-lasting taste, and chewiness. The ingredients usually differ with each brand.

Benefits of sugar-free gum
Here are three probable benefits one might enjoy from chewing sugar-free gum instead of the regular type:

Reduced tooth decay
Studies show that chewing sugar-free gum for a short while after meals may help reduce tooth decay. This is perhaps because chewing causes the mouth to produce more saliva, which washes away microscopic food particles that remain behind and fuel bacteria. Experts reveal that chewing sugar-free gum may also prevent or reduce plaque formation.

Stronger tooth enamel and reduced sensitivity
Since salvia has phosphate and calcium content, it could strengthen tooth enamel. Furthermore, chewing sugar-free gum could help curb teeth sensitivity, which often results from in-office tooth whitening procedures.

Improved memory
Studies indicate that chewing gum, including sugar-free varieties, while performing tasks could improve various aspects of brain function, such as memory, alertness, decision-making, and understanding. Experts also suggest those who chew gum for longer may benefit from reduced signs of stress, anxiety, and depression. While the exact cause of these benefits is yet to be determined, studies point toward better blood flow to the brain caused by chewing.

Besides providing the benefits listed above, sugar-free chewing gum can help avoid conditions like dry mouth (xerostomia). However, one should chew gum as a remedy only if they receive the go-ahead from their healthcare provider.

Any product consumed in excess may have adverse effects on the body, including sugar-free gum. Chewing it may cause:

Headaches and allergies
Sugar-free gum contains aspartame, a highly debated ingredient among experts. While used as an alternative to sugar, aspartame contains a chemical carcinogen that could increase the risk of headaches. Some may develop hives on the body or suffer from gastrointestinal or respiratory issues if allergic to the ingredient. Therefore, one should speak to an expert before chewing sugar-free gum that contains aspartame.

Gastrointestinal problems
Some manufacturers use sorbitol in their sugar-free gum. When a person consumes too much of the ingredient, it may lead to gastrointestinal symptoms like abdominal cramps, bloating, and gas. Too much sorbitol may also trigger diarrhea in some people.

Jaw disorders
Chewing gum all the time, including sugar-free options, could cause the jaw muscles to tighten. As a result, one may experience jaw pain. Chewing gum regularly has also been associated with increased temporomandibular joint pain (TMJ). Those with this disorder may experience chronic symptoms like soreness, discomfort, and headaches.

Dental device damage
Chewing gum of any kind may have adverse effects on dental devices. The product could damage implants, which could hamper one’s oral health and also be quite expensive to fix.

Besides increasing the risk of the problems listed above, sugar-free chewing gum can lead to cancerous developments in the body and an unusual increase in appetite. People with a rare hereditary disorder called phenylketonuria are especially advised to limit their consumption of phenylalanine (a component of aspartame) as their bodies cannot metabolize it.

Tips to reduce gum-related problems
Learning about the benefits and downsides of sugar-free gum can help one make better decisions for their well-being. Here are a few tips to reduce the risk of health problems from chewing gum:

  • Speak to a healthcare provider to learn about potential health complications before chewing gum.
  • While sugar-free chewing gum may have benefits like reduced cavities or plaque production, it is not a permanent substitute for basic dental habits. So, continue brushing or flossing after meals.
  • Learn about the ingredients that are bad for health. Then carefully read the label of the sugar-free gum before buying it and ensure it does not have those ingredients.
  • Limit chewing gum to about 15 minutes per day.
  • Though pregnant women can chew sugar-free gum, they should be vigilant and speak to an expert to understand if they are allergic to any ingredient.

Following these guidelines will help minimize the harmful effects of chewing gum. One should speak to a health expert if they have any questions regarding any ingredient used in the product.