Chewing gum has been suggested to have many cognitive benefits such as increasing focus and alertness, improving memory, and controlling, besides its obvious benefit of making breath smell minty fresh. What about gum's effect on our microbiome though? Could gum help prevent cavities in the same way as tooth brushing or flossing? In order to find out, researchers from the Netherlands and Wrigley, the gum company, recently published the results of a study in PLoS One that set out to answer the question: how much oral bacteria is trapped and removed by chewing gum?
In order to test the hypothesis, volunteers chewed gum for various times for up to 10 minutes. The researchers then used different quantitative and qualitative analyses, such as culturing and genomic analysis, to measure the amounts of bacteria collected in the gum. The researchers found that the chewing gum does indeed trap around 100 million bacteria, which is about the same as brushing your teeth with a new, clean toothbrush without using toothpaste. They also state that chewing gum could prevent biofilm formation, much like tooth brushing. Finally, they concluded that the longer gum is chewed, the fewer bacteria it removes from the mouth.
This study in quantifying bacterial removal by gum was preparing the researchers for their next project, which is to intelligently design gum to prevent cavities. As we know there are healthy and harmful bacteria in the oral cavity, but the study did not investigate which types of bacteria were removed. If gum could be designed that preferentially adsorbs and removes acid-forming bacteria like Streptococcus mutans then it could be highly effective in eliminating cavities. We look forward to reading more about this project, and in the meantime, if you’re going to chew gum, try and make sure it’s sugar free.