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Is Sugar-Free Gum Bad For You?

Also Known As: Artificially sweetened chewing gum



Short answer

Sugar-free gum isn't bad for most people when consumed in moderation. It usually contains artificial sweeteners (like aspartame, sorbitol, xylitol, sucralose, Ace-K, and stevia) which are generally recognized as safe by health authorities. However, excessive consumption of sweeteners, particularly sugar alcohols, can lead to digestive discomfort. While gum can be beneficial for dental health, it should be chewed responsibly to avoid potential TMJ issues.



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Long answer

Artificial Sweeteners in Sugar-Free Gum: Types and Safety

Chewing gum without sugar may appear to be a healthier option, and in many cases, it can be. However, it's crucial to be aware of the artificial sweeteners that replace sugar. These sweeteners are used to provide the sweet taste without the added calories. Let's delve into the types commonly found in sugar-free gum and discuss their safety based on current research and expert opinions.

Type of Artificial Sweeteners

  • Aspartame: One of the most common sweeteners. It is around 200 times sweeter than sugar.
  • Sorbitol: It is a sugar alcohol with a sweetness level that is 60% that of sugar. It's often used because it has fewer calories and does not promote tooth decay.
  • Xylitol: Another sugar alcohol that is similar to sorbitol but with a sweetness level similar to sugar. It has dental benefits, as it can reduce the risk of cavities.
  • Sucralose: A sweetener that is about 600 times sweeter than sugar and is not broken down by the body, so it's noncaloric.
  • Acesulfame Potassium (Ace-K): Around 200 times sweeter than sugar and often used in combination with other sweeteners to improve the taste.
  • Stevia: A plant-based sweetener that is 200 to 400 times sweeter than sugar and considered a "natural" alternative.

Safety of Artificial Sweeteners

The safety of artificial sweeteners is heavily scrutinized and regulated by health authorities. Here's what research suggests about some of the aforementioned sweeteners:

  • Aspartame: The FDA considers aspartame safe for the general population, except for those with the genetic disorder phenylketonuria (PKU). However, anecdotal reports have associated it with a range of health issues, warranting further research.
  • Sorbitol and Xylitol: Sugar alcohols are generally recognized as safe, but excessive consumption can lead to digestive discomfort due to their laxative effect.
  • Sucralose: Studies show that sucralose is generally safe for consumption though some research has raised concerns about its potential impact on the gut microbiome and glucose regulation.
  • Acesulfame Potassium (Ace-K): Acknowledged as safe by the FDA, although some studies suggest it may affect prenatal development and neurologic function.
  • Stevia: The FDA has labeled stevia glycosides as generally recognized as safe, though the whole-leaf stevia and crude extracts are not permitted for use due to a lack of safety data.

All of these artificial sweeteners have an acceptable daily intake (ADI) level, which is an estimate of the amount that a person can safely consume daily over a lifetime without adverse effects. It is important to note that reaching the ADI with sugar-free gum alone would generally require consuming an unusually large amount of gum daily.

The question of whether sugar-free gum is bad for you largely depends on individual health conditions and the amount and frequency of consumption. Seeking food items with safe sweetener levels while also following a balanced diet is a prudent approach to incorporate such sugar substitutes responsibly.

Overall, sugar-free gums are a preferred choice to maintain oral health, especially in comparison to sugary gums, as long as their consumption is moderate. Those with specific health concerns should consult a healthcare provider to discuss their best dietary choices, including the use of products containing artificial sweeteners.

Dental Health Benefits of Chewing Sugar-Free Gum

Chewing sugar-free gum is often touted for its associated dental health benefits, which are supported by numerous studies and dental associations. Here is a detailed look at the ways in which sugar-free gum can be beneficial for your oral health:

Stimulating Saliva Production: One of the primary benefits of chewing sugar-free gum is the stimulation of saliva flow in the mouth. Saliva is crucial for neutralizing acids produced by bacteria, thus reducing the risk of tooth decay. A study published in the Journal of Dental Research found that chewing sugar-free gum for 20 minutes following meals can help prevent tooth decay by increasing saliva flow, aiding in the remineralization of tooth enamel.

Clearing Food Debris: After eating, food particles can remain in the mouth and contribute to plaque build-up. Chewing gum helps in clearing away these particles, effectively cleaning the mouth and reducing the potential for harmful bacterial growth.

Reduction in Oral Bacteria Population: Sugar-free gum often contains non-cariogenic sweeteners such as xylitol or sorbitol. Xylitol, in particular, has been shown to not only reduce the levels of mutans streptococci — the bacteria associated with causing cavities — in the mouth but also to inhibit its growth. A study from the Journal of the American Dental Association supports this, noting the antibacterial properties of xylitol against oral bacteria.

Potential Remineralization Effects: Some sugar-free gums are formulated with ingredients such as casein phosphopeptide-amorphous calcium phosphate (CPP-ACP), which may help to remineralize and strengthen tooth enamel, further protecting teeth from decay.

Decrease in Tooth Decay and Cavities: Consistent evidence suggests that the act of chewing sugar-free gum reduces the incidence of tooth decay and cavities. The combination of increased saliva, neutralization of plaque acids, and reduction in bacteria contributes significantly to this protective effect. For instance, research summarized by the International Dental Journal shows that people who chew sugar-free gum develop up to 28% fewer cavities than those who do not.

While the dental health benefits of sugar-free gum are evident, it is important to note that these advantages serve as an adjunct to regular brushing and flossing, rather than as a substitute. Regular dental check-ups are also essential for maintaining optimal oral health.

Moreover, consumers should be aware that the benefits are specific to sugar-free gum; gum containing sugar can contribute to dental caries and should be avoided for oral health purposes.

The role of sugar-free gum in oral hygiene can be summarized with the following points:

  • Increases saliva production, aiding in the natural process of tooth enamel remineralization and acid neutralization.
  • Physically removes food particles through the action of chewing.
  • May introduce antibacterial agents like xylitol, which are effective against cavity-causing bacteria.
  • Could potentially deliver remineralizing agents to tooth enamel, strengthening it against decay.
  • Is linked to a decreased incidence of dental caries when used in conjunction with a proper oral health routine.

To support these claims, consultation with dental health professionals is essential, and consumers should look for sugar-free gums that are endorsed by dental associations and backed by scientific research to ensure they are making beneficial choices for their dental health.

Potential Gastrointestinal Effects of Sugar Alcohols

While sugar-free gum often sidesteps the potential hazards of sugar, it typically contains sugar alcohols—a common substitute for sugar that provides sweetness without the calories. However, chewing gum with sugar alcohols can have a pronounced effect on the gastrointestinal system. The most commonly used sugar alcohols in sugar-free gum are xylitol, sorbitol, and mannitol.

Sugar alcohols are not completely absorbed by the body, which can lead to several digestive issues. Here's an overview of potential gastrointestinal effects associated with sugar alcohols found in sugar-free gum:

  • Bloating: When sugar alcohols reach the large intestine, they can ferment and produce gas, which often leads to bloating.
  • Diarrhea: High amounts of sugar alcohols can have a laxative effect by drawing water into the bowel, a process called osmotic diarrhea.
  • Cramping: Sensitivity to sugar alcohols can result in cramping as the gastrointestinal system attempts to process and expel these compounds.

A study published in the International Journal of Dentistry acknowledges that sugar alcohols, such as xylitol which is prevalent in sugar-free gum, can cause digestive issues when consumed in large quantities. This is partly due to the fact that they are not fully digested in the small intestine and are consequently fermented by bacteria in the large intestine.

According to the FDA's Code of Federal Regulations, products that contain certain levels of sorbitol, one of the sugar alcohols, must carry a label warning about the potential laxative effect and should not be consumed in large quantities.

Individual tolerance to sugar alcohols can vary significantly. Some people may experience these symptoms after chewing only a couple of sticks of gum, while others may consume larger amounts without any negative effects. It is important to pay attention to your body's response to sugar-free gum and limit consumption if any gastrointestinal symptoms occur.

Additionally, sugar alcohols have been noted for their role in a rare but relevant condition known as sugar alcohol malabsorption, where an individual's capacity to absorb these compounds is compromised, leading to intensified symptoms like bloating, gas, and diarrhea even with modest intake.

For those who have predispositions to gastrointestinal conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or other functional bowel disorders, the cautious approach towards sugar alcohols is advisable. A consultation with a healthcare provider or a dietitian can provide personalized advice on the consumption of sugar-free gum.

Chewing Gum and Jaw Health: TMJ Considerations

When it comes to jaw health, chewing gum is a topic of much debate. The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the hinge joint that connects your jaw to the temporal bones of your skull, which are in front of each ear. It lets you move your jaw up and down and side to side, so you can talk, chew, and yawn. Problems with your jaw and the muscles in your face that control it are known as temporomandibular disorders (TMD). TMD can cause pain and discomfort, and has been linked to habitual chewing gum use in some cases.

One study published in the journal Minerva Stomatologica, has shown that excessive gum chewing can increase the risk of developing TMD. This is particularly concerning when it comes to sugar-free gum, as people might be more inclined to chew it for longer periods due to the absence of sugar and its resultant dental health benefits. Here's how it can affect the TMJ:

  • Overuse: Just like any muscle or joint in your body, the TMJ can become overworked and strained. Persistent and vigorous chewing gum can lead to muscle fatigue and joint pain.
  • Increased Tension: Chewing puts continuous pressure on the TMJ, which can lead to increased tension in the area and exacerbate existing TMD symptoms.
  • Malocclusion: Over time, habitual gum chewing might potentially lead to changes in bite (malocclusion) as the muscles become adapted to a certain position while chewing.

Conversely, some experts argue that moderate chewing gum use can be beneficial for strengthening the jaws and even alleviating TMD symptoms. A study from the Journal of Oral Rehabilitation found that chewing gum can improve mandibular control and reduce symptoms for some TMD sufferers. These are potential benefits:

  • Therapeutic exercise: Moderate chewing can serve as a form of exercise for the jaws, potentially improving strength and function.
  • Pain relief: For some individuals, the act of chewing can provide a form of pain relief, as it can help to reduce stress and tension that may contribute to TMD.
  • Increased salivation: Chewing gum stimulates saliva production, which can help with digestion and protect teeth from decay; indirect benefits that could reduce unhealthy oral habits contributing to TMJ stress.

It's important to note that the effects of chewing gum on jaw health can vary greatly from person to person. Those with pre-existing conditions affecting the TMJ, or who are prone to compulsive or unconscious gum chewing, should be particularly careful. Dentists and healthcare providers often recommend tailored approaches based upon the individual's symptoms and medical history.

If you're concerned about TMD and are a habitual gum chewer, consider the following:

  • Avoid aggressive or prolonged periods of chewing.
  • If you experience jaw pain or fatigue, stop gum chewing immediately.
  • Consult with a dental or TMJ specialist for personalized advice.

In summary, while sugar-free gum itself is not inherently bad for your jaw, moderation is key, and those with TMD might need to be cautious. Paying attention to your body's response and seeking professional guidance is advisable when experiencing any discomfort or signs of jaw problems.

Sugar-Free Gum as an Aid to Weight Management and Focus

Many individuals turn to sugar-free gum as a tool for weight management and to enhance focus. This penchant arises from the perception that chewing gum might help reduce cravings, control appetite, and minimize snack intake. Furthermore, some believe that the act of chewing gum can help sharpen concentration and cognitive function.

Effects on Appetite and Snack Intake:

  • A study published in the Journal of Nutrition finds that chewing gum before snacks can lead to a modest reduction in calorie intake, with the participants consuming 68 fewer calories on average (source).
  • Chewing sugar-free gum is also observed to help some people reduce psychological hunger, which may decrease the likelihood of reaching for unhealthy snacks (source).
  • However, it's essential to note that results can vary between individuals, and chewing gum should not be considered a primary weight loss strategy.

Impact on Focus:

  • Research shows that the repetitive process of chewing gum can improve alertness and lead to improvements in tasks requiring continuous monitoring (source).
  • The act of mastication has been associated with increased blood flow to the brain, potentially enhancing cognitive functions necessary for focus and attention (source).
  • Some studies suggest that the benefits to concentration from chewing gum may be particularly evident during the early stages of a task, which could be beneficial during short-term challenges that require sustained attention (source).

While these aspects highlight potential benefits of sugar-free gum in managing weight and improving focus, it is crucial to approach these findings with reasoned consideration. Incorporating sugar-free gum into a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle can be a supplementary strategy, but should not overshadow the foundational principles of nutrition and wellness. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making significant changes to your diet or relying on products like sugar-free gum for weight management or cognitive benefits.

Frequently asked questions

Sugar alcohols are indeed considered carbohydrates, but they are a special type - polyols. They have a lower impact on blood glucose levels compared to traditional carbohydrates because they are not fully absorbed by the body. However, for people counting carbs, such as those on a ketogenic or low-carb diet, it is important to note that sugar alcohols may still contribute to their total carb count.

Yes, individuals with diabetes can generally safely chew sugar-free gum. Artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols used in sugar-free gum do not increase blood sugar levels the way regular sugar does, making them a safe option for diabetics. It's still advisable for diabetics to monitor their overall daily intake of these sweeteners and consult with their healthcare provider for personalized guidance.

Sugar-free gum can be helpful for individuals following a ketogenic diet, as it contains low or no sugar and minimal digestible carbohydrates. Chewing gum can satisfy sweet cravings without kicking one out of ketosis. Nonetheless, it's important to check the specific sweetener used in the gum to ensure it aligns with the restrictive nature of the keto diet.

In moderation, it is safe for children to chew sugar-free gum, especially as an alternative to sugary options. It can aid in dental health by increasing saliva production. However, parents should be cautious about the potential choking hazard for younger children and the gastrointestinal upset that may occur with the consumption of sugar alcohols in some sugar-free gums.

Ask a question about Sugar-Free Gum and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • bloating
  • diarrhea
  • cramping
  • overuse strain on tmj
  • increased tension in tmj
  • malocclusion

Possible long-term side effects

  • potential impact on gut microbiome and glucose regulation
  • risk of prenatal development and neurologic effects from ace-k
  • intensified symptoms from sugar alcohol malabsorption
  • changes in bite and tmd from excessive chewing

Ingredients to be aware of

  • aspartame (except for pku)
  • sorbitol
  • xylitol
  • sucralose
  • acesulfame potassium (ace-k)
  • whole-leaf stevia extracts
  • sugar alcohols


  • reduced risk of tooth decay
  • increased saliva flow for remineralization
  • clearing food debris
  • reduction in oral bacteria
  • potential remineralization of teeth
  • decrease in cavities
  • aided weight management
  • enhanced focus

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)

PUR Aspartame-Free Gum

  • 100% xylitol sweetened
  • Natural spearmint flavor
  • Aspartame-free gum
  • Promotes dental health
  • 55 pieces per pack
Learn More!

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 02-22-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 02-22-2024

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