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Chewing Gum Removes up to 100 Million Bacteria

By Ross Pomeroy

Chewing gum has already been shown to boost cognitive function and suppress appetite. Now scientists have provided another reason to do it.

According to new research in PLoS ONE, gum traps harmful bacteria that can cause dental cavities. When you spit it out, that bacteria is removed.

The researchers calculated that a single piece of typical "tab" gum can trap up to 100,000,000 bacteria, or roughly ten percent of the microbial load in saliva. They further estimated that gum removes a similar amount of bacteria as flossing, but noted that flossing targets different areas of the mouth.

For the study, five biomedical engineering students generously donated their time to chewing two different standard pieces of gum for various lengths of time ranging from 30 seconds to ten minutes. Afterwards, the gum was spit into a cup filled with sterile water and analyzed.

The researchers found that the longer a piece of gum is chewed, the more microbial species from the mouth it captures. However, after thirty seconds of chewing, the gum starts to lose its adhesiveness, which means that it traps fewer bacteria overall.

Not all gum may benefit your dental health. Sugar-sweetened gum effectively feeds oral bacteria. When these microbes ferment sugars, the biofilm on your teeth grows more acidic, which, in turn, leads to cavities. Gum with artificial sweeteners, however, does not have this effect. In fact, some artificial sweeteners actually have antimicrobial properties.

The researchers think their study may lead to the production of more advanced gums that vastly improve dental health.

"Our findings that chewing of gum removes bacteria from the oral cavity, may promote the development of gum that selectively removes specific disease-related bacteria from the human oral cavity."

Source: Wessel SW, van der Mei HC, Morando D, Slomp AM, van de Belt-Gritter B, et al. (2015) Quantification and Qualification of Bacteria Trapped in Chewed Gum. PLoS ONE 10(1): e0117191. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0117191

(Images: AP, Wessel et. al.)

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