Many people like to chew gum for various reasons – some do it out of habit, while others do it to simply freshen their breath after meals. Furthermore, certain types of chewing gum are intended for a specific group of individuals, such as those who wish to overcome cigarette cravings.

Chewing gum may be seen by most as a common, leisurely oral activity, but the extent of its significance to people’s health and well-being is seldom known. Over the years, researchers have explored the different benefits and effects of chewing gum for individuals under different circumstances. Here we look at the findings from some of these studies.

1. Chewing gum may affect metabolism

In a 1999 study, subjects were provided with 8.4 g calorie-free gum and instructed to chew at a specific frequency for 12 minutes, with the aid of a metronome. The energy expenditure was measured after that period.

Based on the results, the mean energy expenditure increased in all of the subjects during chewing, from 58±11 kcal per hour at baseline to 70±14 per hour. This suggests that there are significant metabolic effects of chewing gum.

2. Chewing gum may decrease likelihood of tooth decay

The benefits of sugar-free chewing gum to oral health are widely known and have also been demonstrated in a number of studies. A study that was published in 2011 showed the significance of sugar-free chewing gum in reducing salivary Streptococcus mutans bacteria.

This is commonly found in the human oral cavity and also contributes to tooth decay. The reduction of the bacteria found in the study was likely due to the antibacterial property of xylitol contained in chewing gum.

The authors, Mohita Marwahar and Manohar Bhat from the SGT Dental College and Research Institute and Jaipur Dental College and Hospital respectively, recommended chewing two sugar-free chewing gums twice daily to reduce Streptococcus mutans colonisation.

3. Chewing gum linked to pain reduction

Pain reduction is yet another effect of chewing gum that has been observed in a few studies. In one experiment, participants were submitted to the nociceptive flexion reflect (NFR) protocol. This included a painful electrocutaneous stimulation of the lower leg, and the measurement of muscle activity in the upper leg after.

In the 2015 study, participants were then asked to chew a piece of mint-flavored gum for 20 minutes. Results showed that gum chewing decreased the NFR both immediately after and 30 minutes after chewing.

4. Chewing gum associated with increased alertness

An interesting finding from another study published in 2015 showed an association between chewing gum with raised cortisol levels and higher alertness in individuals.

Researchers found that heart rate was also higher for both regular chewers and non-regular chewers. Chewing gum during the working day was associated with reduced cognitive problems, as well as a trend for being less behind with work.

Among the mechanisms that could explain the observed effects of chewing gum, according to the authors, include facial muscle activation and altered central nervous system activity - likely a result of a stimulation of regional blood flow or glucose delivery.

In light of the great benefits of chewing gum that have been discussed in many studies, it is not surprising that medicated chewing gum has been suggested as a novel drug delivery system with a promising potential. The advantages of medicated chewing gum are numerous.

Thus, it is important for healthcare professionals, particularly physicians, to acknowledge these benefits in order to benefit their patients. Along with its convenient administration, medicated chewing gum can also create patient compliance more easily. MIMS

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