Chewing Gum is perhaps the world’s oldest confection…it began as an edible treat from trees.
In our history of odd oral cleaning techniques and tools, humans have used animal hair to make toothbrushes, crushed shells to use as toothpaste, and re-purposed tortoise blood as mouthwash. When discovering and designing medical technologies, it seems nothing is off limits. But one of the oldest methods used to maintain a clean and healthy mouth is still widely popular today… chewing gum.
WHAT IS CHEWING GUM?
Chewing gum in various forms has been around since ancient times. Chewing gum has existed in some form or another since the Neolithic period. In fact, 6,000 year-old chewing gum has been found with teeth marks in it, made from birch bark tar. Tree bark is a popular source of gum, and many cultures derived gum from trees.
Historical Chewing Gum
While the Greeks did not invent gum, they are one of the most well known historical cultures to be documented first chewing gum en masse. The ancient Greeks chewed sap from the mastic tree, called mastiche. Grecian women would chew the bark to clean their teeth and freshen their breath. Mastic gum actually has antiseptic properties, and was believed by the Greeks to contribute to better oral health.
On the other side of the world, the ancient Mayans favored the sap of the sapodilla tree (called chicle). The Mayans would boil the sap of the sapodilla tree and use it for glue, and in religious ceremonies. Sometimes, the boiled sap was given to children to chew and called “cha.” Native Americans from New England chewed spruce sap, a habit they passed on to European settlers.
Modern Chewing Gum
Gum had a major advancement in the 1848, when American businessman John B. Curtis saw a market opportunity for chewing gum. Curtis began making gum out of the resin of the spruce tree, and called his gum “State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum.” For the first few years of his new business, selling gum was hard. However, Curtis saw a major uptick in sales when he started rolling his gum in sugar, and began expanding his operations. In fact, Curtis’ business, Curtis & Son, is credited with inventing the machinery responsible for mass-producing gum.
Today, the base used for most gum products is a blend of synthetic materials (elastomers, resins and waxes in various proportions). However, chewing gum is as popular as ever. Consumers may be used to thinking about chewing gum as a kind of candy, but this category of the ADA Seal recognizes chewing gum that has demonstrated scientifically that it can protect the teeth.
WHAT IS IN CHEWING GUM AND HOW IS IT MADE?
The average American chews 300 sticks (1.5 lb) of gum per year. According to government statistics, sapodilla trees would have been tapped out long ago had it remained the gum base of choice. Chemistry came to the rescue, and since WWII gum manufacturers have relied almost exclusively on synthetic gum bases.
Chewing gum typically consists of:
~ Gum base
~ Artificial sweeteners (such as aspartame, sorbitol, xylitol, or mannitol)
~ Softeners (glycerin or other vegetable oil products)
~ Flavorings and colorings
The process for making chewing gum has six basic steps:
1. Gum base ingredients are melted together
2. Other ingredients are added until the warm mix thickens like dough
3. Machines called extruders are used to blend, smooth and form the gum
4. The gum is shaped (flattened or molded into tablet shapes and coated)
5. The gum is cooled for up to 48 hours in a temperature controlled room
6. The gum is packaged
ARE THERE BENEFITS OF CHEWING GUM?
The physical act of chewing increases the flow of saliva in your mouth. If you chew after eating, the increased salivary flow can help neutralize and wash away the acids that are produced when food is broken down by the bacteria in plaque on your teeth. Over time, acid can break down tooth enamel, creating the conditions for decay. Increased saliva flow also carries with it more calcium and phosphate to help strengthen tooth enamel. Clinical studies have shown that chewing sugarless gum for 20 minutes following meals can help prevent tooth decay. While chewing gum is not a substitute for regular brushing and flossing, it is a good tool for cleaning your teeth on the go!