Aspartame in chewing gum: dental experts weigh the sweetener’s safety for teeth and gums

Norman Ray
Norman Ray

Global Courant

Despite the World Health Organization’s recent warning, aspartame poses no cancer risk, the FDA and industry experts insist — but given that the artificial sweetener is used in many chewing gums and candies, does it pose any risk to the teeth and gums?

Chewing gum after meals is beneficial for teeth because it increases saliva production, which helps “dilute and neutralize acids produced by the bacteria in dental plaque,” according to the American Dental Association (ADA) website.

However, chewing gum that contains sugar can potentially lead to cavities.

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“Chewing sugar-free gum, when added to a normal at-home oral care routine of brushing twice daily with fluoridated toothpaste and daily cleaning between teeth, may help reduce the risk of dental caries (cavities),” the ADA states.

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Still, sugar-free gum may have some possible side effects. And there are healthier options that don’t contain aspartame, dental health experts told Fox News Digital.

Chewing gum after meals is beneficial for teeth because it increases saliva production, dental experts say. (iStock)

Aspartame doesn’t cause tooth decay like regular sugar does, noted Fatima Khan, a dentist and co-founder of Riven Oral Care in Houston, Texas.

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“Regular sugar is fermentable and acts as a food source for bacteria that cause cavities,” she told Fox News Digital.

“However, artificial sugars such as aspartame are not fermentable and therefore cavities-causing bacteria cannot use them as a food source.”

While aspartame itself doesn’t directly damage teeth, some dentists warn that other ingredients in the gums can cause tooth decay.

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Sugar-free gum contains ingredients such as carbonic acid, phosphoric acid, malic acid, citric acid, tartaric acid and fumaric acid, all of which are found in various diet sodas, Khan said.

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“All of these acids lower the pH in your mouth,” she said. “When the pH of your mouth drops below 5.5, your enamel demineralizes, the calcium and phosphate in your enamel weakens and breaks down, and your teeth erode.”

Tooth enamel helps protect teeth from tooth decay, Khan said.

“The layer below, known as dentin, is less mineralized and more prone to decay due to its softer nature,” she added.

“Sugar and acid are two of the biggest culprits when it comes to tooth decay,” confirmed Dr. Sean Kutlay, a general dentist in Santa Clarita, California, told Fox News Digital.

“Any sugar-free gum is fine because it stimulates more saliva, which helps reduce mouth acidity and prevent cavities, especially after a meal.”

While aspartame was recently considered a possible carcinogen, Kutlay said the average person would have to ingest about 450 sticks of sugar-free gum to exceed the daily recommended limit.

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“A piece of gum after every meal, chewed for 10 to 15 minutes, will bring so many benefits to your oral health,” he said.

Aspartame-containing gum can also cause potential digestive problems, which can indirectly affect oral health, according to Dr. Nicole Mackie, a dentist at the Dental Implant Specialty Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

“This is because excessive consumption of artificial sweeteners like aspartame may not be processed in the gut, leading to bloating, diarrhea and fatigue,” she explained to Fox News Digital.

Wrigley’s Extra Long Lasting Flavor Polar Ice, 15 sticks per pack. Wrigley’s brand is owned by William Wrigley Jr. Company. (iStock)

While aspartame does not cause tooth decay or cavities, dentists recommend opting for xylitol, a naturally occurring sweetener found in plants, as a more beneficial sugar-free option.

“The reason why xylitol is recommended is because bacteria that cause cavities can’t metabolize this sugar and use it as fuel, and it starves the bacteria that cause cavities and helps prevent tooth decay,” Khan said.

“It reduces cavities-causing bacteria, increases saliva production, and helps remineralize teeth.”

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A 2021 study published in Clinical Oral Investigations found that chewing gum containing xylitol reduced plaque buildup on teeth.

Xylitol is an “excellent sweetener,” agrees Kutlay.

“In addition to sugar-free gum, it is also found in many toothpastes, mints and oral rinses aimed at reducing cavities and the bacteria that cause them,” he said.

A 2021 study published in Clinical Oral Investigations found that chewing gum containing xylitol reduced plaque buildup on teeth. (iStock)

In terms of calorie intake, xylitol contains less than half the calories of sugar, Khan said.

“Aspartame is 200 times sweeter than sugar, so the amount of aspartame needed in products is minimal, much less than xylitol and sugar,” Khan explained.

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One downside to xylitol is that it can cause gastrointestinal problems, such as gas and bloating, if consumed in large amounts, Khan warned.

The recommended daily intake of xylitol for preventing cavities is 6 to 10 grams, experts say.

Melissa Rudy is a health editor and member of the lifestyle team at Fox News Digital.

Aspartame in chewing gum: dental experts weigh the sweetener’s safety for teeth and gums

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