Chewing gum can be so annoying. Nothing grates on the nerves more than the “chomp chomp chomp” of some oblivious computer nerd whilst you are trying to write a 10-page paper on dendrochronology. However, in spite of the annoyances it has, with modern advances that are being made in gum manufacturing today, chewing gum could become the next best treatment for all sorts of dental disease. Of course, if you don’t have any issues in the teeth department, you can always chaw down on a good piece of (insert your favorite gum flavor here.) for nothing more than enjoyment. One question you may have, as your mandibles are bobbing up and down, turning the wheels in your head, is “who came up with the idea of sticking a piece of rubber between one’s pearly whites and chewing over and over and over again?” Well, let’s see…
Chewing gum is often thought of as a fairly modern innovation, but actually, it has been around for thousands of years in one form or another. According to Discovery News, One Scottish archaeology student in Finland actually found what may have been a piece of chewing gum, chawed between the molars of prehistoric man almost 5000 years ago . It was not hard to make – just heat up a piece of birch bark, let the ooze cool, and it was ready for chewing. While ancient gum did not have the variety of flavors that mankind enjoys today, it certainly did have some antiseptic benefits, as the birch gum would contain carbolic acid. It could be that they just enjoyed the stress-relieving jaw-moving action that people today find in gum chewing. Whatever the case, it’s been around for a long time. Even though more modern components are used today (butyl rubber and all sorts of natural and artificial flavorings), one can’t help but wonder how on earth ancient man figured out that birch bark could be so useful.
The health benefits (and side-effects) of gum chewing are fairly well-known, but perhaps a glimpse into the reasoning behind these benefits is necessary. In a more modern version of its birch bark counterpart, the chemical Xylitol has been found to have antibacterial effects when added to chewing gum, as can be seen in this article from the British Medical Journal. Xylitol is a “sugar alcohol”, which is known to give bacterial strains such as Streptococcus pneumoniae a bad day, so scientists examined if it would have any effect on dental infections. They found that children who chewed xylitol-infused chewing gum had not only had reduced amounts of bacteria in their mouths, but also experienced a lower chance of ear infection. Chewing gum could even be used to remineralize enamel by using gum containing Casein phosphopeptide-amorphous calcium phosphate (CPP-ACP) nanocomplexes, according to the Journal of Dental Research. This unique delivery system could keep choppers shiny and choppy for children for years to come, if the right chemicals are used. With more time and research, maybe you won’t have to even see the dentist. Just go to the dentist’s office and buy a piece of teeth-cleaning anti-cavity super-gum! Okay, maybe that’s a little too far, but you never know.
So, next time you chomp down on a stick of stride, double mint, big red, trident, or whatever, take a moment to pause and remember the amazing journey through history that chewing gum took to become what it is today. And more importantly, imagine the future of what gum could be – not just a favorite pastime of multiple Type A personalities worldwide, but a treatment option for people with dental problems everywhere.