Sugar-Free Gum: Good for Your Child’s Teeth or Not?
As a parent, you want to take good care of your child’s teeth. At the same time, getting them to brush after every meal probably isn’t realistic. Can sugar-free gum help prevent cavities?
Is Chewing Gum Good for Your Kids’ Teeth?
Chewing is a great way to reduce cavities for kids and adults alike. When kids chew, their mouths produce more saliva. This helps prevent tooth decay by neutralizing the acid that causes cavities. Saliva also washes away leftover food particles. Sugar-free gum isn’t a replacement for some good old-fashioned brushing, but it’s a nice way provide dental hygiene after lunch or dinner.
That said, the type of gum you choose is very important. The kind of gum your kids want you to buy — bubble gum with fruit fillings — is definitely NOT good for teeth. Instead of preventing tooth decay, bubble gum encourages bacteria to grow. It also pushes the sugar right up against your child’s teeth, easily causing a bunch of cavities.
Is Sugar-Free Gum Safe for Kids?
This is a tricky question because it actually involves two things: if artificial sweeteners are safe for kids and if gum is dangerous as far as choking is concerned. The answers can vary depending on your child and your family.
The Oral Health Foundation recommends not giving gum to kids under the age of seven. At the same time, it acknowledges that parents are the best judges of when children are ready.
As far as the safety of artificial sweeteners goes, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says that there’s no evidence these ingredients can hurt children at all (unless you have a rare condition called phenylketonuria). Also, sugar-free gum has relatively tiny levels of artificial sweeteners compared to other products.
To give you an idea of the amount, a stick of chewing gum has around 6–8 milligrams while a can of diet soda has 180 milligrams. Your kids would need to eat the equivalent of 24 sweetener packets to meet the FDA’s max limit. If you’re still concerned, choose gum made with xylitol, erythritol or other natural sugar alcohols.
Is It Bad for Kids To Swallow Gum?
This is part myth and part rare-but-weird concern. First, nothing usually happens if school-age kids swallow gum. It will literally be out of their systems in a day or two. The only exception to this is if children are constipated and swallow a LOT of gum. So, take this urban legend with a grain of salt.
Are There Any Alternatives to Sugar-Free Gum That Kids Like?
Remember, it’s the act of chewing, not sugar-free gum itself, that helps prevent cavities. Depending on the age of your kids, you can offer them naturally crispy or chewy foods instead. Here are some of my favorites:
Whole grain bagels
My kids love foods with a crunchy texture, so these veggies are a big hit. I also keep a few packs of sugar-free gum around for when we need something quick to chew. I’ve noticed that as long as I have everything already cut in the fridge, they actually go for the fresh fruit and veggies more often than gum.