A question we hear often is, “Is it okay for my child to chew gum?” Parents are rightfully worried about allowing their little ones to hit up every gumball machine they see on the trip to the store. Gum can cause problems with children’s teeth and, in some cases, their digestive system. At Bright Smiles Pediatric Dentistry, we know that kids are going to be kids, so we are here to help you make healthy choices for your child. If your child is going to chew gum, there are ways to ensure that the gum doesn’t damage those pearly whites.
Toddlers & Gum
Let’s face it: kids aren’t exactly known for proper eating habits. Infants and toddlers are especially bad about swallowing things they maybe shouldn’t, like toothpaste and – you guessed it – chewing gum! Gum typically tastes good, and after chewing on it for a while, it stands to reason that any child would want to swallow something that tastes so delicious. The old wives’ tale that chewing gum stays in your stomach for years after swallowing it is a bit of an exaggeration. The digestive process is just a bit slower than it would be for healthier foods, but your child will pass the gum normally.
It’s okay to let your child enjoy a piece of gum every now and then, but the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting until the child is old enough to understand not to swallow the gum. It’s around age 5 that a child can start to understand the concept of chewing something without swallowing it. You might even want to start with half a stick of gum to minimize the amount of gum swallowed if it accidentally happens. Just remind your child regularly that it is not candy and should not be swallowed like a piece of candy. Also, be sure to give them only sugarless gum – more on that and the magic of Xylitol below!
Potential Problems with Gum Chewing
When someone chews gum regularly or tends to swallow gum, several dental and overall health problems can occur:
- Digestive tract issues causing diarrhea and/or abdominal pain
- Excessive gas
- Mouth ulcers
- Jaw problems from repeated chewing motion
- Dental decay due to sugar content of many gums (yes, baby teeth can get cavities, too!)
The Best Gum for Chewing
If you want to allow your child to enjoy a piece of gum every now and then, be sure to give them a gum that will be kind to their teeth. Sugarless gums are ideal because they do not include artificial sugars that leave a sugary residue behind which will eat away at tooth enamel. Some gums include a seal from the American Dental Association indicating that they can even fight cavities! Chewing these approved gums can stimulate saliva production and neutralize cavity-causing acids. Instead of sugar, these gums are sweetened with Xylitol, a naturally occurring sweetener that can actually prevent cavities in kid’s teeth.
Chewing sugarless gum with Xylitol can help prevent cavities in older children, but it’s of course not a substitute for proper oral health care. Clinical studies have shown that chewing sugarless gum for 20 minutes after a meal can help prevent tooth decay. Even if your child enjoys a piece of gum after dinner, they should still be brushing twice a day for two minutes and flossing once daily. And most importantly, remember to bring your child in to see the pediatric dentist for regular exams and cleanings every six months. Schedule your child’s next appointment at Bright Smiles by calling us at (904) 584-9004 or submitting our online contact form today! We are conveniently located in St. Johns near Jacksonville and Nocatee.