Does chewing gum offer any health benefits?

Last Updated: February 5 2023

Chewing gum can provide health benefits like improved oral health and reduced hunger and stress levels. However, for some people these are balanced out by possible downsides like increased headaches.

Most people have chewed gum at some point in their lives. It’s possible you’re chewing gum right now as you read this post. But are there any health benefits to chewing gum? How about detriments?

Oral health

There’s one benefit that chewing gum aficionados are often aware of: improved oral health.[1][2] After eating a meal, some of the leftover food stuck in your mouth gets broken down by oral cavity microbes, which produce acidic byproducts that can damage our teeth.

Chewing gum may offset this by increasing saliva production, which helps neutralize these acidic compounds.[3] Recent research has also found that gum can trap and remove bacteria from your mouth.[4]

Chewing gum containing xylitol has shown extra benefit, since xylitol reduces levels of the acid-producing (and hence enamel-eroding) bacterium mutans streptococci.[5]

Alertness

The majority of studies that looked into chewing gum before cognitive tasks showed increased alertness and sustained attention, [6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16] while one of them showed mixed results with decreased alertness but increased sustained attention.[17] One systematic review summarized the findings of 22 studies that investigated the effects of chewing gum on sustained attention and found that more than half of the studies found positive effects.[18]

The process of mastication (chewing) seems to increase overall blood flow to the brain as well as to specific brain regions, which may be the mechanism responsible for increasing attention and alertness. Studies in various populations are lacking though. For example, one study found that chewing gum had a negative impact on vigilance in children with ADHD, and also had no impact on sustained attention.[19]

Chewing gum seems to increase alertness and sustained attention, although the evidence isn’t conclusive, especially for specific populations.

Anxiety

The effects of chewing gum on anxiety and stress also seem to be fairly consistent. A number of studies have found that chewing gum decreases anxiety and stress,[20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27][28] but a few have also found no detectable effect.[29][30][31]

The mechanism isn’t fully understood, but gum chewing has been found to increase cerebral blood flow and alter brain waves, and these effects may also be influenced by gum flavor.[32][33]

Chewing gum seems to have a somewhat consistent positive effect on anxiety and stress.

Appetite

A few studies over the years have investigated the effects of chewing gum on appetite and hunger, finding that chewing gum seems to reduce subjective appetite and reduce snack energy intake.[34][35][36] One study even found that it reduced hunger by increasing satiety.[37]

Gum chewing might trick your brain into (sort of) thinking you’re eating. It increases the levels of an intestinal hormone called GLP-1, which is involved in producing the feeling of satiety.[38]

Chewing gum may reduce energy intake from snacking, and may reduce hunger levels.

Headaches and TMJ

While chewing gum might provide some interesting benefits, it doesn’t come without potential detriments: in certain people, chewing gum seems to worsen headaches, and a few studies have found associations between gum chewing frequency and headache frequency.[39][40]

Excessive gum chewing also is correlated with worse TMJ (temporomandibular joint) symptoms,[41] and TMJ problems can be headache triggers.[42]

If you’re prone to tension or migraine headaches, or TMJ issues, you might want to avoid excessive gum chewing.

The bottom line

Gum chewing is somewhat akin to drinking coffee. It's a common habit that has mixed evidence, with a decent number of studies showing potential benefit, and just a few suggesting potential for harm. Remember that the dose is important here: excessive gum chewing is much more likely to cause problems than occasional chewing. If you find that gum chewing helps lower your appetite, or improve your anxiety or oral health... chew away!