There are many aspects of modern dentistry that have ties back to ancient times. From primitive toothbrushes to tooth fillings in ancient Egypt, we’ve learned and progressed significantly from practices originally used thousands of years ago.
However, what if we told you chewing gum history is just as storied as some of the practices mentioned from ancient Egypt? In fact, there’s evidence that Europeans chewed birch bark tar more than 9,000 years ago as a way to relieve toothaches. Will you ever look the same at those colorful packages lining the grocery store checkout? Chewing gum for dental health is a practice that has transcended millenniums while helping to cure dry mouth or relive pain. Keep reading as we unpack the chewing gum’s sticky history!
The history of chewing gum
There’s evidence that chewing gum actually dates back more than 9,000 years. Originally the substances chewed had medicinal purposed and were thought to receive toothaches or quench thirst. Some cultures even had strict social constraints on who could chew gum. For instance, in many societies, kids and single women could chew it in public while married women were allowed to only do it in private as a way to freshen their breath. Men, on the other hand, had to chew gum in private and used it solely as a way to clean teeth.
Fast forward to the 19th century where Europeans began to use products that local Indians already used as part of their cultures. By 1850 this led the first chewing gum factory to be opened. The original gum was made from spruce tree resin boiled down and coated with cornstarch. Unfortunately, the combination was less than ideal, and led subsequent produces to use paraffin wax instead of spruce tree gum. Once again, the products evolved, and chicle was substituted for paraffin wax. This combination of ingredients worked so well that it remained largely unchanged until the mid-1900s.
In 1928, bubble gum made its first entrance onto the market. This product was different than other chewing gums since it was made with the purpose of blowing bubbles. After more than a decade of comic failures, Flank Fleer finally created what we know as Double Bubble.
Today, the market is full of different varieties of gum. From dental chewing gum to the gum that comes inside lollipops, there is something out there for everyone. In 2017 over 72.04 million Americans chew at least one stick of spearmint flavored gum—the most popular flavor on the market. Peppermint, wintergreen and fruit flavors fill out the next three spots. Although it took over a decade to produce, bubble gum is one of America’s least favorite flavors with only 22 million people chewing it.
Dentists have long recognized the oral health benefits of chewing gum. Studies have shown that chewing sugar-free gum after a meal can help rinse off harmful acids and help prevent potential of tooth decay. In addition, chewing gums helps to stimulate up to ten times as much as saliva in your mouth as an otherwise unoccupied mouth (dry mouth can lead to significant oral health problems since bad bacteria are able to infiltrate gum lines easier).
Finally, chewing gum can prevent the growth of bad bacteria that causes cavities since one of the main ingredients in gum—xylitol—causes the mouth to become inhospitable to these bacteria. It’s due to these benefits that the American Dental Association has put its seal of approval on sugar-free gums. If you’re in a pinch after a meal and need something to freshen your breath or otherwise don’t have the opportunity to brush, popping in some sugar free gum is a great and long-since popular option!
Also published on Medium.