What Sugar-Free Gum Really Does To Your Teeth

At one point in the not-so-distant past, the American Dental Association recommended chewing sugar-free gum after meals as an important step in oral hygiene and health (via Iverson Dental). On the upside, chewing gum that is sweetened with sugar alternatives like xylitol and sorbital can actually reduce the amount of bacteria in the mouth, as well as increase the amount of saliva produced, which helps neutralize acids in the mouth and balance pH levels. But research published in the British Dental Journal indicates that chewing sugar-free gum may also carry a downside for oral health.

After reviewing multiple studies on the dental effects of sugar-free products, researchers found that certain sugar-free gums — especially fruit-flavored ones — may contain acidic additives that actually work to erode tooth enamel. Dr. Sok-Ja Janket, an associate research professor at Boston University School of Dental Medicine, said, "The term sugar-free may generate false security because people may automatically believe that sugar-free products are safe for teeth. As the use of orbital and xylitol containing products increases, the public should be educated on the hidden risk of dental erosion due to acidic additives."

Sugar-free gum may not be helping your teeth

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that is naturally occurring in certain plant fibers, and is usually extracted from birch wood (via WebMD). Like other sugar-free sweeteners, xylitol use can cause gastrointestinal problems like bloating, gas, and diarrhea when consumed in significant amounts (via LiveStrong).

But what to do if you really, really, love your sugar-free gum (or candy, for that matter)? Choosing mint or another non-fruit flavor may be a little kinder to your teeth (via Iverson Dental). Just don't overdo it, or assume it's doing any great favors for your dental health. Philip Riley, a researcher from the University of Manchester School of Dentistry, reviewed a number of studies that examined the potential benefits of xylitol in sweets for dental health. He noted, "The evidence we identified did not allow us to make any robust conclusions about the effects of xylitol, and we were unable to prove any benefit in the natural sweetener for preventing tooth decay" (via Yahoo! Life).