A new study has found that chewing gum is actually effective at cleaning your mouth of bacteria – but only if the gum is sugar free. If the gum has sugar, it actually feeds the bacteria even more.

Chewing gum clears your mouth of bacteria. Image via Collective Evolution.

It’s pretty much agreed at this point that sugary chewing gum is not healthy – it encourages tooth decay, it supplies the bacteria in your mouth with nutrients… it’s not good for you. But non-sugar chewing gum is different. Some have argued that continuous consumption adds stress to the jaws, while other studies have found that it suppressed appetite and slightly boosts cognitive functions. Now, a new study has found an advantage to chewing gum: it eliminates bacteria.

“Chewing of gum contributes to the maintenance of oral health. Many oral diseases, including caries and periodontal disease, are caused by bacteria. However, it is unknown whether chewing of gum can remove bacteria from the oral cavity. Here, we hypothesize that chewing of gum can trap bacteria and remove them from the oral cavity”, the study’s abstract reads, before proving the hypothesis.

The gum basically traps the bacteria, and when you spit it out, you also eliminate the bacteria. The researchers calculated that a single piece of typical gum can trap up to 100,000,000 bacteria – that’s 10 percent of all the bacteria in your mouth! Flossing also eliminates just as much bacteria, but scientists note that flossing eliminates bacteria from other areas in your mouth and is more effecting in cleaning it.


Image credits: Wessel et al.

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For this study, five biomechanical engineers had to spend a lot of time chewing gum, with times varying from 30 seconds to ten minutes. Afterwards, the gum was spit into a cup filled with sterile water and analyzed. Of course, the longer the gum was chewed, the more bacteria was captured; but researchers found that after 30 seconds of chewing, it lost adhesiveness, so it also started to lose some of the bacteria it trapped. If you want to eliminate the most bacteria from your mouth, 30 seconds is probably ideal.

Researchers hope that with their research, more advanced gums can be developed, helping oral hygiene.

Journal Reference: Wessel SW, van der Mei HC, Morando D, Slomp AM, van de Belt-Gritter B, et al. Quantification and Qualification of Bacteria Trapped in Chewed Gum. PLoS ONE 10(1): e0117191. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0117191