Gum? Yes, and perhaps not just to avoid nervous stress during the pandemic. I recognize this is in defiance of many things we've been taught. From a young age we’re trained to think things that taste good must be bad for us. Sugar-laden soda, for example, has a bad reputation for destroying teeth and contributing to obesity. While my training as a food and nutrition scientist keeps me thinking about the healthiest way to eat, I’m also human. The pandemic and associated lockdowns have made it harder to keep good habits and the extra pounds many of us have gained during this pandemic—the “quarantine 15”— are all too real. But when gyms are closed and it’s hard to get in to see a dentist, one simple way to support health is by chewing sugar-free gum.
According to the World Health Organization, there is a proven relationship between oral and general health. With COVID-19 cases on the rise in many areas, a lot of people are afraid to go to the dentist for routine checkups and teeth cleaning. The American Dental Association (ADA) found that office visits are slowly heading back to normal, but two out of three dentists are still seeing fewer patients than usual. 
As long as it is sugar-free, chewing gum will be effective at improving dental health. That’s what the major dental associations from every corner of the globe have all concluded. That includes the World Dental Federation (FDI), the American Dental Association, the European Food Safety Agency and the Australian Dental Association.
Chewing gum is a way to improve oral health and also a way to dissipate nervous energy during the stressful times we’ve seen with COVID-19. So why aren't dentists universally pro-gum? Perhaps it is because gum tastes good, and things that taste good are supposed to be vices. Gum is instead one of the things that tastes good and is correlated to positive health benefits.
For example, chewing gum boosts the natural processes our body uses to fight plaque. Dentists performed hundreds of studies before coming up with the recommendation that we all brush at least twice a day and floss at least once before going to bed. Knowing that’s not always possible, they add — again, based on careful scientific study — that chewing sugar-free gum for twenty minutes after a meal can be used as a supplemental activity to cut down on cavities.
Gum has a number of effects. It picks up food particles as you chew, it increases saliva flow and it discourages over-consumption of sugary snacks— all big positives for oral hygiene. It’s not hard to see how clearing food debris and minimizing sugar intake are benefits, but the impact of increased saliva flow needs a bit more explanation.
Studies show that saliva flow is
about 2.6 times greater while chewing gum. Saliva has many roles, but after
eating, it neutralizes acids within the mouth, enabling remineralization of the
tooth enamel. King’s College in London reviewed a series of clinical trials and
concluded in 2019 that the
gum chewing effect on reducing tooth decay was “significant.”
Scientists measure the effect of a given activity on a disease using a ratio called the “preventative fraction.” This figure compares the odds of getting the disease with and without the activity (in this case, the activity is chewing gum). The preventative fraction for gum chewing was calculated as 28 percent, which happens to be equal to the score, the study authors noted, enjoyed by more traditional interventions like supervised toothbrushing programs.
What makes chewing gum even more effective than those traditional dental programs is that it is practical enough that people are likely to follow through with it. There aren’t many people in this world who, if given the choice, would prefer to floss their teeth than chew a stick of gum.
And, as noted, chewing gum can be a substitute for grinding teeth or over-consuming unhealthy treats. One study found that people who chew gum snack ten percent less, and every bit certainly helps when trying to lose weight. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recently found snacks and sweets to be the second largest contributor to total calorie intakes among children ages 2- to 19-years and adults 51 years and older.
It’s important to make note of
anything we can do to maintain our health while we wait for a vaccine to free
us from the global pandemic—even if it’s something as simple as chewing gum.
 Tammy Chen, DDS. “A Dentist Sees More Cracked Teeth. What’s Going On?” New York Times, Sept. 8, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/08/well/live/dentists-tooth-teeth-cracks-fractures-coronavirus-stress-grinding.html
 ADA Health Policy Institute. “COVID-19: Economic Impact on Dental Practices Week of November 30 Results.” https://surveys.ada.org/reports/RC/public/YWRhc3VydmV5cy01ZmM3OWU0ZGFkNTU2NTAwMGY5NDdjNDctVVJfM3BaeGhzWm12TnNMdjB4
Dr. Taylor Wallace, PhD, CFS, FACN (www.drtaylorwallace.com) is the Principal&CEO of the Think Healthy Group, Inc. and an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Studies at George Mason University. Dr. Wallace has recently been referred to as “the nation’s premier food and nutrition guru” by the Huffington Post. He has published over 40 peer-reviewed studies and 5 university-level textbooks, received numerous prestigious awards in the fields of food science and nutrition, and is the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Dietary Supplements and deputy editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.