Frequent gum chewers have cause to rejoice as the habit has been found to eliminate as much as 10 percent of harmful oral bacteria, according to a study published this week in the journal PLOS One. Researchers discovered that just 10 minutes of lip- smacking can remove up to 100 million bacteria, which gets trapped in the chewing gum and discarded when the gum is spit out. That’s about the same amount of bacteria lost during flossing, scientists said.
“Chewing of gum contributes to the maintenance of oral health,” researchers noted in their report. Their findings show that “chewing of gum removes bacteria from the oral cavity." For their experiment, five researchers chewed gum for various lengths of time and then measured the amount of bacteria in the chewed gum with scanning electron microscopy, which uses a focused beam of electrons to create detailed scans of a specimen.
But there’s a catch: Chew too long, and the bacteria that got picked up by the chewing gum will get deposited right back into the mouth. After several rounds of gum chewing, researchers found that after about 30 seconds, the gum’s bacteria-trapping abilities began to wane. They recommend keeping the chewing to less than 10 minutes. They also recommended sticking to sugarless gum, as sugar actually feeds oral bacteria.
“Continued chewing changes the structure of the gums, decreasing the hardness of the gum due to uptake of salivary components and release of water soluble components,” researchers noted. “This presumably affects the adhesion of bacteria to the gum, causing a release of initially trapped, more weakly adhering bacteria from the gum.”
Chewing sugarless gum increases saliva production, which helps remove food debris from the mouth, neutralizes bacterial acids and spreads disease-fighting elements around the mouth, according to the American Dental Association. However, health officials warn not to let chewing gum replace regular dental hygiene practices like brushing and flossing.
Previous research has shed light on gum’s other benefits, like curbing bad breath. A study from 2004 found that chewing gum containing cinnamic aldehyde, a plant essential oil most notably present in Wrigley’s Big Red that could reduce the population of bacteria that promotes bad breath by as much as 50 percent. Other research has linked gum chewing to boosting alertness and temporarily increasing blood flow to the brain.