Clinical studies support that briefly chewing sugar-free gum following meals can help prevent tooth decay, but evidence also suggests that excessive gum chewing can contribute to temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) and its associated headaches.

Chewing Gum and Dental Health

While chewing gum is not recommended for people with some oral health conditions or dental work, the American Dental Association (ADA) states that for people in otherwise good dental health, chewing sugarless gum for 20 minutes after meals can help prevent cavities.

Little girl blowing a big gum bubble

The chewing of sugar-free gum stimulates saliva production, which helps flush lingering food particles and neutralizes acids produced by bacteria in the mouth. In addition to prior research into the effects of chewing gum on oral health, the ADA cites 2015 research that indicates chewing sugarless gum may also trap harmful bacteria that contributes to tooth decay.

Despite the benefits associated with sugar-free chewing gum, it should not be used as a substitute for regular brushing and flossing. The ADA recommends brushing your teeth at least twice daily and flossing at least once daily even if you routinely chew gum after meals or snacks.

Chewing Gum and TMJ

It should be noted the ADA also recommends that those who suffer from TMJ avoid chewing gum (as well as bad dental health habits like chewing ice or biting your nails). As a 2014 Wall Street Journal article about the pros and cons of gum points out, extended or habitual gum chewing can cause tightness in the jaw muscles and “exacerbates the clicking and discomfort of even mild temporomandibular joint disorder.”

The article also mentions recent studies that have linked chewing gum to migraine-like headaches. The presence of intense, recurring headaches is one of the most painful and commonly reported symptoms of TMJ.

TMJ is often the result of a bite condition or misaligned jaw. Chewing gum can overstress muscles and joints that are already being pushed to their limits due to one of these underlying problems. Last year, in an extreme example of the potentially damaging effects of compulsive gum chewing, a British woman made news after she required jaw surgery to repair the effects of severe TMJ and long-term chewing (she reported that she gnawed on gum for approximately five hours a day).

TMJ Treatment

There are numerous treatment options for TMJ, and surgery is rarely required. Many patients find relief from the painful symptoms of TMJ through periodic TENS therapy. TENS uses mild electrical current to massage and relax the jaw muscles, and allow the jaw to settle into its natural resting position.

Other patients benefit from custom-made orthotic devices similar to sports mouthguards. These appliances are designed to comfortably fit your unique bite and hold the jaw in proper alignment.

You are more likely to need surgery if you ignore TMJ symptoms rather than seeking treatment. The British woman mentioned above experienced jaw popping and clicking for months before her jaw locked shut and she sought treatment.

If you live in the Columbia, SC, area and suffer from chronic headaches and jaw pain, please call Smile Columbia Dentistry at (803) 781-9090 to schedule your appointment with a knowledgeable TMJ dentist.