In 1993, archeologist Bengt Nordqvist was on the island of Orust in southern Sweden when he found a wad of gum on the floor of a hut that he estimated was spat onto the floor about 8,000 years ago. Other prehistoric people chewed on tree resin and those who study civilizations have found that almost every culture chewed some kind of gum. The Greeks were big on gum for cleaning teeth and for fresh breath.
We all know where it ends up when the flavor is gone; under chairs at the movie theater, the bottom of our shoes or stuck in kids’ hair and clothing. Gum can really be nasty stuff! But, is it good for us?
Modern gum came to the United States in the 1860s, and by 1892 William Wrigley had cornered the market and gum chewing was ubiquitous. The ingredients in gum vary, especially with the sugar-free forms, with sorbitol or xylitol among the additives. Peelu gum, for instance, is made with fibers from the peelu tree. Watch out for gum that contains xylitol if you have dogs or ferrets as xylitol is toxic to both.
A popular perception is that chewing gum is bad for the teeth and that may be so for the sugared gums. Gums without sugar actually help in the removal of plaque acid from the mouth and teeth when chewed immediately after eating. This is due to an increase in saliva production which helps to flush out bacteria
Two new studies and proposed gum reformulations may influence our relationship with chewing gum.
A study presented at the 2008 10th Anniversary of the International Congress of Behavioral Medicine concluded that chewing gum was associated with higher alertness, reduced anxiety and stress, and improvement in overall performance on multi-tasking activities. That is good news if you dont add to the stress of others with bad gum chewing etiquette.
Another study published in the August issue of Archives of Surgery, one of the Journal of American Medical Association/Archives journals found that chewing gum is a simple resolution to the recovery of bowel function after gastrointestinal surgery. Authors of the paper published in Urology evaluated 102 patients undergoing gastrointestinal surgery and gave half of them five pieces of chewing gum per day after their operation. This group recovered their bowel movement significantly faster than those who did not get the gum. Pediatric Urologist Bradley Kropp with Faculty of 1000 Medicine said that he gives patients undergoing reconstructive surgery a piece of gum following their operation. He says, In todays high-tech, molecular-driven scientific world, it is nice to come across an idea that can be implemented immediately into our practices without increased healthcare costs.
Kropp also adds, Just think how much a pack of gum would cost today had the pharmaceutical industry come across this information first.
Gum reformulation is on the way to address the litter factor with gum. Researchers are looking to create a biodegradable gum that will harden when it is spit out instead of becoming sticky. It would then completely decompose in about two weeks.
Whats on the horizon? Gum with friendly bacteria built right in. There is a new strain of lactobacillus called L. anti-caries, which binds to Streptococcus mutans, the bacteria responsible for tooth decay, that will soon wind up in gum, toothpastes and mouthwashes.
Good old gum!