Does chewing gum offer any health benefits?

Chewing gum can provide health benefits ranging from improved oral health to reduced hunger and stress levels, but for some people these are balanced out by possible downsides such as increased headaches.

Our evidence-based analysis features 42 unique references to scientific papers.

Written by and verified by the Examine.com Research Team. Last updated on Apr 17, 2018.

Most people have chewed gum at some point in their lives. It’s possible you’re chewing gum right now as you read this post. But are there any health benefits to chewing gum? How about detriments?

Oral health

There’s one benefit that chewing gum aficionados are often aware of: improved oral health.[1][2] After eating a meal, some of the leftover food stuck in your mouth gets broken down by oral cavity microbes, which produce acidic byproducts that can damage our teeth.

Chewing gum may offset this by increasing saliva production, which helps neutralize these acidic compounds.[3] Recent research has also found that gum can trap and remove bacteria from your mouth.[4] 

Chewing gum containing xylitol has shown extra benefit, since xylitol reduces levels of the acid-producing (and hence enamel-eroding) bacterium mutans streptococci.[5]

Alertness

The majority of studies that looked into chewing gum before cognitive tasks showed increased alertness and sustained attention, [6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16] while one of them showed mixed results with decreased alertness but increased sustained attention.[17] One systematic review summarized the findings of 22 studies that investigated the effects of chewing gum on sustained attention and found that more than half of the studies found positive effects.[18] 

The process of mastication (chewing) seems to increase overall blood flow to the brain as well as to specific brain regions, which may be the mechanism responsible for increasing attention and alertness. Studies in various populations are lacking though. For example, one study found that chewing gum had a negative impact on vigilance in children with ADHD, and also had no impact on sustained attention.[19] 

Chewing gum seems to increase alertness and sustained attention, although the evidence isn’t conclusive, especially for specific populations.

Anxiety

The effects of chewing gum on anxiety and stress also seem to be fairly consistent. A number of studies have found that chewing gum decreases anxiety and stress,[20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27][28] but a few have also found no detectable effect.[29][30][31] 

The mechanism isn’t fully understood, but gum chewing has been found to increase cerebral blood flow and alter brain waves, and these effects may also be influenced by gum flavor.[32][33]

Chewing gum seems to have a somewhat consistent positive effect on anxiety and stress.

Appetite

A few studies over the years have investigated the effects of chewing gum on appetite and hunger, finding that chewing gum seems to reduce subjective appetite and reduce snack energy intake.[34][35][36] One study even found that it reduced hunger by increasing satiety.[37]

Gum chewing might trick your brain into (sort of) thinking you’re eating. It increases the levels of an intestinal hormone called GLP-1, which is involved in producing the feeling of satiety.[38]

Chewing gum may reduce energy intake from snacking, and may reduce hunger levels.

Headaches and TMJ

While chewing gum might provide some interesting benefits, it doesn’t come without potential detriments: in certain people, chewing gum seems to worsen headaches, and a few studies have found associations between gum chewing frequency and headache frequency.[39][40]

Excessive gum chewing also is correlated with worse TMJ (temporomandibular joint) symptoms,[41] and TMJ problems can be headache triggers.[42]

If you’re prone to tension or migraine headaches, or TMJ issues, you might want to avoid excessive gum chewing.

The bottom line

Gum chewing is somewhat akin to drinking coffee. It's a common habit that has mixed evidence, with a decent number of studies showing potential benefit, and just a few suggesting potential for harm. Remember that the dose is important here: excessive gum chewing is much more likely to cause problems than occasional chewing. If you find that gum chewing helps lower your appetite, or improve your anxiety or oral health... chew away!

References

  1. Simons D, et al. The effect of medicated chewing gums on oral health in frail older people: a 1-year clinical trial . J Am Geriatr Soc. (2002)
  2. Fu Y, et al. Assessment of chewing sugar-free gums for oral debris reduction: a randomized controlled crossover clinical trial . Am J Dent. (2012)
  3. Itthagarun A, Wei SH. Chewing gum and saliva in oral health . J Clin Dent. (1997)
  4. Wessel SW, et al. Quantification and qualification of bacteria trapped in chewed gum . PLoS One. (2015)
  5. Nayak PA, Nayak UA, Khandelwal V. The effect of xylitol on dental caries and oral flora . Clin Cosmet Investig Dent. (2014)
  6. Smith A. Effects of chewing gum on mood, learning, memory and performance of an intelligence test . Nutr Neurosci. (2009)
  7. Tänzer U, von Fintel A, Eikermann T. Chewing gum and concentration performance . Psychol Rep. (2009)
  8. Tucha L, Simpson W. The role of time on task performance in modifying the effects of gum chewing on attention . Appetite. (2011)
  9. Johnson AJ, et al. Chewing gum moderates multi-task induced shifts in stress, mood, and alertness. A re-examination . Appetite. (2011)
  10. Johnson AJ, et al. The effect of chewing gum on physiological and self-rated measures of alertness and daytime sleepiness . Physiol Behav. (2012)
  11. Allen AP, Smith AP. Effects of chewing gum and time-on-task on alertness and attention . Nutr Neurosci. (2012)
  12. Allen AP, Smith AP. Demand characteristics, pre-test attitudes and time-on-task trends in the effects of chewing gum on attention and reported mood in healthy volunteers . Appetite. (2012)
  13. Johnson AJ, Muneem M, Miles C. Chewing gum benefits sustained attention in the absence of task degradation . Nutr Neurosci. (2013)
  14. Hirano Y, et al. Effects of chewing on cognitive processing speed . Brain Cogn. (2013)
  15. Allen AP, Jacob TJ, Smith AP. Effects and after-effects of chewing gum on vigilance, heart rate, EEG and mood . Physiol Behav. (2014)
  16. Allen AP, Smith AP. Chewing gum: cognitive performance, mood, well-being, and associated physiology . Biomed Res Int. (2015)
  17. Tucha O, et al. Chewing gum differentially affects aspects of attention in healthy subjects . Appetite. (2004)
  18. Hirano Y, Onozuka M. Chewing and attention: a positive effect on sustained attention . Biomed Res Int. (2015)
  19. Tucha L, et al. Detrimental effects of gum chewing on vigilance in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder . Appetite. (2010)
  20. Scholey A, et al. Chewing gum alleviates negative mood and reduces cortisol during acute laboratory psychological stress . Physiol Behav. (2009)
  21. Zibell S, Madansky E. Impact of gum chewing on stress levels: online self-perception research study . Curr Med Res Opin. (2009)
  22. Sasaki-Otomaru A, et al. Effect of regular gum chewing on levels of anxiety, mood, and fatigue in healthy young adults . Clin Pract Epidemiol Ment Health. (2011)
  23. Sketchley-Kaye K, et al. Chewing gum modifies state anxiety and alertness under conditions of social stress . Nutr Neurosci. (2011)
  24. Gray G, et al. The contrasting physiological and subjective effects of chewing gum on social stress . Appetite. (2012)
  25. Smith AP, Chaplin K, Wadsworth E. Chewing gum, occupational stress, work performance and wellbeing. An intervention study . Appetite. (2012)
  26. Smith AP, Woods M. Effects of chewing gum on the stress and work of university students . Appetite. (2012)
  27. Smith A. Effects of chewing gum on stress and health: a replication and investigation of dose-response . Stress Health. (2013)
  28. Konno M, et al. Relationships Between Gum-Chewing and Stress . Adv Exp Med Biol. (2016)
  29. Torney LK, Johnson AJ, Miles C. Chewing gum and impasse-induced self-reported stress . Appetite. (2009)
  30. Ekuni D, et al. Gum chewing modulates heart rate variability under noise stress . Acta Odontol Scand. (2012)
  31. Walker J, et al. Chewing unflavored gum does not reduce cortisol levels during a cognitive task but increases the response of the sympathetic nervous system . Physiol Behav. (2016)
  32. Hasegawa Y, et al. Flavor-Enhanced Modulation of Cerebral Blood Flow during Gum Chewing . PLoS One. (2013)
  33. Morinushi T, et al. Effect on electroencephalogram of chewing flavored gum . Psychiatry Clin Neurosci. (2000)
  34. Hetherington MM, Boyland E. Short-term effects of chewing gum on snack intake and appetite . Appetite. (2007)
  35. Hetherington MM, Regan MF. Effects of chewing gum on short-term appetite regulation in moderately restrained eaters . Appetite. (2011)
  36. Melanson KJ, Kresge DL. Chewing gum decreases energy intake at lunch following a controlled breakfast . Appetite. (2017)
  37. Park E, et al. Short-term effects of chewing gum on satiety and afternoon snack intake in healthy weight and obese women . Physiol Behav. (2016)
  38. Xu J, et al. The effect of gum chewing on blood GLP-1 concentration in fasted, healthy, non-obese men . Endocrine. (2015)
  39. Lippi G, Cervellin G, Mattiuzzi C. Gum-Chewing and Headache: An Underestimated Trigger of Headache Pain in Migraineurs? . CNS Neurol Disord Drug Targets. (2015)
  40. Watemberg N, et al. The influence of excessive chewing gum use on headache frequency and severity among adolescents . Pediatr Neurol. (2014)
  41. Tabrizi R, et al. Does gum chewing increase the prevalence of temporomandibular disorders in individuals with gum chewing habits? . J Craniofac Surg. (2014)
  42. Graff-Radford SB. Temporomandibular disorders and headache . Dent Clin North Am. (2007)

Cite this page

"Does chewing gum offer any health benefits?," Examine.com, published on 13 February 2018, last updated on 17 April 2018, https://examine.com/nutrition/does-chewing-gum-have-health-benefits/