If you go to almost any country on earth, you’ll come across people of all ages working their jaw muscles and gums, as they chew their favorite brand of gum. The flavors may vary from Japan and Europe to the USA, but chewing gum is a habit that most of us share. Placing a stick of gum in your mouth and enjoying the burst of fresh minty or fruity flavor has been a part of American culture for generations. The gum craze really picked up steam over the last twenty years because more and more people are quitting smoking. Chewing gum makes a tastier and infinitely healthier substitute for smoking a cigarette.
Men, women and children have been chewing gum in one form or another for a lot longer than you might think. The first instance in recorded history of people chewing gum goes all the way back to the time of Plato and Sophocles in ancient Greece. Greek men and women favored mastic gum as a way to freshen their breath and keep their teeth clean. This early form of gum was derived from the resin that could be found in the bark of the mastic tree. These trees dotted the Grecian landscape and were quite common.
During the Colonial era in America, settlers in New England picked up the “chewing gum” habit from the Native Americans that they interacted with. The Indians enjoyed chewing on spruce sap, which has a gum-like consistency. The resin forms on spruce trees when the bark is cut open. So there are some similarities here with the Greek “tradition” of forming chewing gum.
During the 1800’s, the act of chewing various gum-like substances increased in popularity. However, the first person to receive a patent for inventing a formula for chewing gum was an Ohio dentist named, William Semple. A talented dentist and savvy businessman, Doctor Semple manufactured and sold his gum across the Midwest. The stated purpose of his gum was to clean the user’s teeth and strengthen the jaw. Dr. Semple’s gum was not intended as a treat for kids. In fact, reports are that it did not taste very good.
Would-be entrepreneurs, even in modern times, are always trying to come up with dazzling new flavors and uses for chewing gum. One of the most popular and ingenious brands of gum to come along in a while was Big League chew, which was invented by major league Baseball pitchers Jim Bouton and Rob Nelson. Big League Chew was supposed to be an alternative to chewing tobacco. Jim and Rob were disgusted with the habit that their fellow team-mates had of dipping into pouches of tobacco, chewing it and then spitting the juice out onto the dugout floor. This just wasn’t healthy and a lot of players at the time were contracting all sorts of oral health problems from their use of tobacco. Jim and Rob came up with the idea of shredding bubble gum, putting it in a pouch and marketing it to their fellow players and fans in the stadiums across America. Big League chew quickly caught on and the rest is history.
Oral Hygiene and chewing gum
If you love gum, then you’ll be happy to know that chewing gum (the sugar-free or organic variety) is actually good for your oral health. Chewing gum helps to stimulate the flow of saliva, which is imperative to your oral health. A steady flow of saliva helps to defeat that nasty villain, Dry Mouth, who we talk about all the time on dental.net. Chewing sugar-free gum also neutralizes the acids that contribute to plaque, remineralizes your tooth’s enamel and cleans away food particles. That’s a lot of good work being done by a skinny little stick of gum. Some sugar-free brands of gum contain Fluoride, which is celebrated by dentists worldwide for its’ cavity fighting prowess. They also contain Calcium (which contributes to the overall health and maintenance of your teeth) and Vitamin C. Moreover, gum that has been sweetened with Xylitol has been shown in studies and test groups to reduce plaque.
What is this magic ingredient called Xylitol?
Thankfully, it is no magic trick. Xylitol is a low-calorie sweetener that is found in fruits and plants. You will usually find it in toothpaste, mints and sugarless chewing gum. Xylitol tastes like sugar, but that is not why you want this ingredient in your gum. Xylitol actually prevents the bacteria that causes cavities. Bacteria that turns into that dreaded oral nuisance, plaque, eats away at your tooth enamel, until there’s next to nothing of that protective coating left. When Xylitol goes to work, the bacteria loses its’ ability to stick to the teeth, thereby interrupting the growth of cavities. Over time, much less plaque will form on your teeth and the acid content in your mouth will go way down.
Other non-cavity causing sweeteners that you will find in gum and other products are aspartame, sorbitol and mannitol. But at this point in time, experts feel that Xylitol, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a food additive in the eighties, seems to be the most powerful of the bunch.
The American Dental Association Seal – Your assurance that a product is safe.
Many of the sugar-free chewing gum brands have earned the coveted American Dental Association seal of approval. Earning their ADA stripes is a lengthy and detailed process. The manufacturer must submit scientific proof concerning the safety and effectiveness of their sugar-free gum. They must prove that the gum is safe for oral tissues (your gums and palate), it has to reduce plaque acids, promote renewal of your tooth’s enamel and reduce cavities and/or gum diseases such as Gingivitis.
OK! It’s cool that your favorite brand of gum has the ADA seal of Approval. Now what?
First, when you are in your local candy store or big box Pharmacy, check the ingredients to make sure that you have sugar-free gum in your hand and look for the ADA logo. Second; do not think for a second that you can now skip brushing and flossing if you are too tired or pressed for time. As nice as it is, sugarless gum was never meant to be a substitute for proper oral hygiene. If you haven’t got toothpaste and a toothbrush or floss stick on you, then chewing some sugar-free gum, after meals for about 15 to 20 minutes, will help to increase your saliva flow and help prevent tooth decay.
Just in case you’re curious; Here’s how gum gets to your neighborhood store.
The basic ingredients that make up what will eventually be chewing gum, are melted all together. Gradually, a few other ingredients (sweeteners, flavorings) are added to the mix until it forms a fairly thick dough-like consistency. A machine called an extruder smooths out the mix and shapes it into a flat stick or a tiny coated oval shape. Once the gum is cooled in a temperature controlled room for up to forty-eight hours, the gum is packaged and ready for delivery and your mouth. FYI; chewing gum, like sausages, is one of those things that you would rather not see just how it is made. Totally not appetizing!
No matter what the brand is, most gum consists of the following elements, a gum base with some kind of natural or artificial sweetener, glycerin or a vegetable oil derived softener as well as flavorings and food coloring. Some better for your teeth gum options include the Orbit Sugarless brand, which is made by the Wrigley company (who do know a thing or two about chewing gum; love that Juicy Fruit and Double mint). Both Orbit and the Extra brand chewing gum have received the ADA seal of acceptance. Orbit has quite an interesting history. Orbit came into being during the Second World War. The Wrigley executives decided to send all of their popular brands like Spearmint and Juicy Fruit overseas to our troops. Orbit gum was introduced to the civilian market as a temporary substitute for the company’s other gums. Once Spearmint and Juicy Fruit returned stateside, at the war’s end; the Orbit brand was discontinued. Orbit was the first sugar free gum to be marketed under the Wrigley banner. Orbit made its’ triumphant return to America in 2001, at the height of the ‘You are what you eat movement”. Sugarless flavors include Spearmint, Winter mint and Peppermint. At that time, America was becoming more nutrition and health conscious, so it was the perfect time for Wrigley to give Orbit another try
You might also want to discuss organic chewing gum options with your dentist. By and large, most of the organic and natural gum varieties are better for you than the big name commercial brands (yes, even the sugarless choices). The drawback is that organic chewing gum tends to be extremely bland or not taste very good. Making great inroads on the market is the Chicza organic rainforest gum. Chicza markets itself as a more natural alternative to the mostly artificial commercial gum selections that you will find on your supermarket and candy store shelves. Chicza has an organic gum base of forty percent. Chicle (which the ancient Mayans used to chew as a form of gum), is melted together with natural waxes to form a gum base. The gum base is then mixed and molded with organic sweeteners such as agave syrup, evaporated cane juice and natural flavors. It is then pressed and shaped into chewing gum strips. The flavors range from wild mint, lime, berry to tropical fruits and herbs. Chicle is a natural sap that is harvested from trees in Central America’s rainforest. Chicza is good for our environment, as well. The gum is biodegradable and dissolves into dust after a few weeks.
Another gum that bears looking into is Glee Gum. Glee chewing gum has no artificial flavors or sweeteners like Acesulfame K or preservatives that we can all do without. Classic Glee Gum is sweetened with fair-trade cane sugar and brown rise syrup. The sugar-free option is made with one hundred percent Xylitol, our old friend from earlier in the article. Xylitol is harvested from American Birch and Beech trees. The Glee line up of sugar free flavors includes Refresh Mint and Lemon-Lime.
Hopefully, this article has got you thinking about your daily oral health and how chewing sugarless gum can supplement your brushing and flossing routine. Now, break out that pack of gum and chew guilt-free!
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