To Chew or not to Chew?

IMG_2832If anyone knows me well, they know I am a gum chewer. This really had me thinking… what is the deal with gum? Is it good for our health or detrimental to it?

Let’s sort through the conchewsion.

On the one hand chewing gum has been touted to aid with heartburn, stress, cognitive function and appetite. On the other hand, chewing gum may cause unwanted symptoms like bloating, migraines, and dental complications including TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint Disorder).

The scant amount of research regarding gum-chewing points to the notion that the actual chewing may have health benefits rather than the gum itself.

One small study showed chewing gum helped students improve concentration in visual memory tasks. The researchers noticed the non gum-chewing students did not perform as well on the tests as those chewing gum.

However, gum chewing does exert pressure on the jaw, which may result in TMJ, a condition that causes pain in the jaw joint and/or muscles that control jaw movement. TMJ can lead to facial pain, migraines, and a cluster of symptoms associated with the face and jaw.

In college I chewed multiple packs of gum while studying for exams. Until now I never realized the reasons behind my gum addiction. Although it may have helped my concentration and biochemistry grade, I now realize the pains in my head and face were due to the constant gum chewing.

So although chewing gum may improve your concentration is it worth the possible migraine or jaw issues? For some occasional gum chewing may present no problems.

If you want to enjoy a few pieces of gum is there a preferred type to chew?

We know sugar containing gums increase risk of cavities so sugar-free types are preferred yet they still have their drawbacks. The fake sweetener aspartame is an ingredient found in sugar-free gum and diet sodas that can trigger migraines and lead to carb cravings. Fake sweeteners have on average 300-500 times the sweetness of sugar, which can lead to increased cravings, weight gain and other medical issues.

The flavor of the gum also matters. Choosing cinnamon flavored gum with xylitol can actually help with reduction of bacteria inside your mouth. Who knew?

If you think you might have symptoms of TMJ, which happened to me as I wrote this you might be wondering, how do I cut back on chewing gum?

Maybe the best approach is slowly weaning yourself off of gum or limiting to a specific amount per day. Although it may sound silly count out the pieces of gum and put the rest away. A final tip that works for me is out of sight out of mind. When I don’t have gum I’m totally fine – it’s when I have a whole pack I will totally destroy it.

The choice is up to CHEW!

This blog was co-written by RD intern Elizabeth Wluka and Susan Dopart