There are so many ingrained misbeliefs about chewing gum that it’s hard to know what’s true and what’s not. Does chewing gum burn calories? Strengthen your jawline? Ruin your teeth? Some say chewing gum is harmless, and still others think it’s bad for your health. Then there’s parents who couldn’t care less about whether chewing gum is bad for you and just wish their kids would quit blowing bubbles. But the truth about chewing gum may convince you to think think twice before banning it from your house. Here’s what experts have to say about the benefits and drawbacks of chewing gum.
Chewing Gum Burns Calories, But It’s Marginal
Chewing sugar-free gum has been shown to burn a small amount of calories, about 11 per hour. But it’s certainly not enough to help you lose weight.
A 2018 study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science found that when participants chewed gum at the same time as they worked out, they burned more calories, increased their heart rates and walked faster. Men aged 40 and older experienced the most benefits when chewing gum and walking simultaneously. But still, according to experts, the numbers weren’t enough to impact the scale.
If You Swallow Gum, It Doesn’t Get Stuck in Your Stomach Forever
The idea that chewing gum gets stuck in your stomach if you swallow it is merely a myth, says David Chen DDS, a dentist in Long Island, New York.
“What is true is that our bodies cannot digest chewing gum. But it usually passes through our intestinal system unchanged with no problems,” he says.
While Chen notes that there have been cases where a large amount of chewing gum is swallowed and causes intestinal blockages in children, he says that for the most part, you needn’t worry that chewing gum will get stuck in your gut.
Chewing Gum Does Cause Bloating
Some gum can make your stomach expand because each time you open your mouth, you slurp in a little more air, causing your belly to inflate like a balloon. Additionally, some chewing gum contains the sugar-free sweetener xylitol. “Xylitol in general has been shown to cause flatulence,” Chen says. Another sugar-free sweetener called sorbitol, which can be found in some gums, has also been shown to ferment in your gut and cause bloating.
Sugar-Free Gum Can Be Good For Your Teeth
Chewing gum with sugar is entirely bad for your teeth because it can cause cavities. But chewing sugar-free gum starves bacteria of the calories it needs to survive and creates more saliva in your mouth, which acts as a buffer that actually protects your teeth from damage, Chen says.
“Since xylitol has so few calories, bacteria expend more energy to metabolize it than what they get out of it,” he says. “Additionally, cavities start to form when the mouth drops into the acidic range of less than 5.5 pH. Your saliva contains a lot of buffering elements which help to bring the pH back up.”
Chewing Gum Can Strengthen Your Jawline
Chewing gum is a killer workout for your jawline, especially if you do it often. “Chewing an excessive amount of gum can indeed help strengthen your jawline, because if you're chewing all the time, it’s equivalent to continually doing bicep curls,” Chen says.
However, people with TMJ should hold off on the habit altogether. Researchers found that chewing gum could exacerbate the condition. “We often recommend against excessive overuse of your jaw muscles in those with TMJ,” says Chen.
Chewing gum is good, bad, and in-between. It can burn a teeny tiny amount of calories, and the sugar-free variety does protect your teeth. It can also be a workout for your jaw. But if chewed in excess, it can cause bloating and worsen your TMJ. The bottom line: Keep it sugar-free, keep it moderate, and you should be good to go.