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How chewing sugar-free gum helps fight tooth decay

Chewing gum used to be a sweet treat – why now do the adverts claim it fights tooth decay?

The very first thing to note is that the gum must be sugar-free! And it works by boosting saliva production.

How does saliva help fight tooth decay?

The carbohydrates we eat also feed the bacteria that live in our mouths. As the bacteria feast, they produce organic acids (acetic and lactic) as a by-product. This creates a low pH (acidic) environment for a time and minerals are drawn out from tooth enamel in a process called demineralisation.

Healthy saliva contains calcium and phosphate ions which neutralise these acids, and the teeth re-uptake their mineral content – remineralisation. This normal cycle takes up to an hour in healthy individuals – but it depends on individual factors and the type of foods eaten. Sugar-free gum promotes this acid-neutralising action of saliva and support remineralisation. Ordinary gums containing sugar, however, deliver a second round of carbohydrates extending the acid bath and demineralisation.

The balance between demineralisation and remineralisation is at the heart of healthy teeth.

The science backs up sugar-free gum

In the early 2000s, Professor Eric Reynolds of the University of Melbourne investigated the idea that drinking milk protected against tooth decay. His research found calcium in dairy differed from the calcium in other foods. In milk, it is stabilised by the casein protein. The end result, supported by clinical trials is Recaldent gum which has been shown to lead to greater remineralisation than normal sugar free gums.

Recaldent gum and similarly formulated tooth mouses have gone on to worldwide success. They are considered particularly relevant for people prone to caries. For example, some health conditions or medications effect the quality or quantity of saliva, upsetting the required delicate balance.

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