Over the years, chewing gum manufacturers have tried everything to bill the stuff as part of a healthy lifestyle. Trident wanted you to know that even dentists chewed it, and Orbit gave you a good, clean feeling no matter what. But according to a study review published in the British Dental Journal, gum may still be the same smile-wrecking menace it always has been. And even sugar-free chewing gums marketed as “decay-fighting” can do a number on your enamel–regardless of what the manufacturers claims say.
Sugar in gum has long been eyed as problem, not only for its calorie content, but for its decay-causing properties. Sugar-free products, however, aren’t much better–they’ve been linked a host of health concerns, including increased risk of cancer, stroke, and heart attack. But as the researchers point out, these risks usually come from a sugar substitutes, like aspartame. Aspartame doesn’t cause decay…but may cause cancer.
Which is why many sugar-free manufacturers have switched to xylitol, which seems to come with fewer of these risks, and is, unlike aspartame, not a carcinogen. It also delivers fewer calories, is less easily absorbed (so it doesn’t cause a blood sugar spike) and even seems to reduce tooth decay, leading many sugar-free gum manufacturers who use the ingredient to label them “tooth-friendly.” Wonder ingredient? Everyone seems to think so.
But xylitol may not be as perfect as previously thought.
Unfortunately, the researchers suggest, while xylitol may not cause tooth decay, it may still aid in dental corrosion, causing a loss of enamel. This is particularly true when the sugar-free product in question contains both xylitol and an acidic ingredient–like fruit flavoring. Which means that while sugar-free, fruit-flavored products that are sweetened with xylitol may not rot your teeth, they may still, over time, wear down your enamel, leaving your chompers sensitive, weak, and prone to cavities.
The larger issue here, though, is that there are now sugar-free products (those that contain xylitol) that are being marketed as not only less bad for your teeth–but actually good for your teeth. And if these British dentists are correct, the exact opposite is true. Which, bogus health claims aside, gum is still what it is: candy.
Image: Epic Dental