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The surprising step you've been missing from your oral care routine

The surprising step you've been missing from your oral care routine

Three quarters of Australian adults were warned against chewing gum as a child. But recently, Australian dentists have been saying quite the opposite.

According to new YouGov data on the chewing habits of Australians, almost a third of Australian adults were told as children that chewing gum was rude, and nearly a quarter were told it was bad for your teeth. But leading dentists say sugarfree gum actually plays a key role in looking after your dental health.

In the midst of a global pandemic it would be no surprise some of us are hesitant to keep up regular dental checks.

In fact, the ADA's Oral Health Tracker found that just under half (48.8%) of adults surveyed had visited a dentist for a check-up in the last 12 months - a number that is anticipated to get worse as Australians avoid the dentist due to fears of proximity to others, job losses result in people spending less on their health and people are stuck at home eating sugary foods more regularly.

Sydney dentist Dr Jalal Khan says there are some simple ways all Australians keep up their oral health even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr Khan says more Aussies should consider chewing sugarfree gum after eating or drinking when brushing isn’t possible, because it helps to neutralise plaque acid and maintain tooth enamel.

“Oral hygiene and looking after our teeth isn’t something we should do just once or twice a day, in the morning and night, because we eat and snack so frequently throughout the day,” Dr Khan said. “Chewing sugarfree gum helps to fill the gaps between brushing and flossing creating a healthy environment for our teeth.”

A recent scientific literature review by King’s College found chewing sugarfree gum could help reduce the incidence and growth of dental caries by up to 28 per cent. 

Despite being preventable, tooth decay is one of Australia’s most common oral health problems and is on the rise among Australian adults and children. Maintaining good oral health is fundamental to overall health, reduces risk of chronic diseases and improves mental wellbeing.

This week, Dr Jalal Khan drilled down into new YouGov research on Australia’s chewing habits to bust some long-held myths about chewing gum:

  • Bad manners or healthy habit? - The main reason Aussies don’t chew gum is because they think it’s rude (29% of adults).

Dr Khan: “The fact is chewing sugar-free gum is a healthy habit that helps look after your teeth. The act of chewing gum stimulates saliva flow, which clears food particles, and protects the teeth by neutralising any acidity in your meal. Only 17% of Aussie adults chew gum after eating and drinking to look after their teeth.”

  • Not all gums are equal - A quarter (25%) of Australian adults avoid chewing gum because they believe it contains sugar.

Dr Khan: “Most gum (93%) on the market is sugarfree and endorsed by national dental bodies. I recommend looking for gum that displays the Australian Dental Association or FDI World Dental Federation logos on the back of pack.”

  • Is there a right (or wrong) time to chew? - While 17% of adults chew before eating to prevent snacking or over-eating, dentists say chewing after a meal has more benefits.

Dr Khan: “If you are on the go, it’s best to chew gum after you’ve finished a meal to stimulate saliva flow, which clears food particles and protects the teeth by neutralising any acidity in your meal. It’s important to chew for at least 20 minutes as this has been shown to help maintain the enamel on your teeth.”

  • What happens if you swallow gum? As children, over half of us (55% of Australian adults) were told that if you swallow gum it stays in your stomach.
 

Dr Khan: “It’s an old wives’ tale that’s been passed down by each generation. The truth is if you swallow gum it will NOT stay in your stomach. Although chewing gum is not designed to be swallowed, it simply passes through your body’s digestive system after a few days.”

 

  • Brushing and flossing isn’t enough to maintain fresh breath - Almost three quarters (74%) of people that chew gum, do it to freshen their breath.
 

Dr Khan: “Brushing, flossing and chewing gum all help to keep your breath fresh but so does your diet. I’m not just talking about avoiding garlic.  Our mouth is the front end of our gut and it’s lined with bacteria. The mix of the bacteria in your mouth and gut can directly influence the smell of your breath.”

To keep your teeth healthy, Dr Khan recommends five simple steps:

  1. Get regular check-ups from your dentist (once every six months is generally recommended)
  2. Brush twice a day
  3. Floss daily
  4. Eat a healthy, balanced diet
  5. Chew sugarfree gum after eating or drinking and when on-the-go

Issued on behalf of the Extra Oral Healthcare Program

Dr Jalal Khan is a Sydney-based dentist and a member of the NSW Australian Dental Association. Dr Khan has a North Sydney dental clinic and runs a mobile dental truck to provide dental services to regional communities in need.