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Journal of Indian Society of Pedodontics and Preventive Dentistry Official publication of Indian Society of Pedodontics and Preventive Dentistry
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Year : 2008  |  Volume : 26  |  Issue : 6  |  Page : 51-52

Benefits of Chewing

Professor Emeritus, New York University, College of Dentistry, USA

Correspondence Address:
Stephen J Moss
Professor Emeritus, New York University, College of Dentistry
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

PMID: 19075447

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How to cite this article:
Moss SJ. Benefits of Chewing. J Indian Soc Pedod Prev Dent 2008;26, Suppl S2:51-2

How to cite this URL:
Moss SJ. Benefits of Chewing. J Indian Soc Pedod Prev Dent [serial online] 2008 [cited 2022 Oct 4];26, Suppl S2:51-2. Available from: http://www.jisppd.com/text.asp?2008/26/6/51/43531

In a fast-paced, demanding world, the simple act of chewing gum may help to relieve anxiety, improve alertness, and reduce stress. When researcher Andrew Scholey presented these findings last summer at the 10 th International Congress of Behavioral Medicine, many in the audience sat up and took notice. Chewing had evolved from being merely a biological function that begins the process of digestion to an important physiological process, affecting the entire body.

Dr. Scholey is one among an increasing number of researchers who are delving into this previously unstudied process of chewing, something that we all do without a thought hundreds of times a day. Their findings are truly amazing. Ten years ago who would have thought that new technology [such as positron emission tomography (PET)] would demonstrate that the act of chewing increases blood flow to the brain, directly affecting those areas thought to trigger satiety during eating? Today, gum chewing is increasingly used as an aid in weight control and smoking cessation. Many smokers are indeed finding relief from their habit by chewing gum when they can't smoke; for them chewing alleviates the stress associated with nicotine withdrawal and helps to reduce the craving. Only recently have researchers focused on the possibility that chewing relieves stress, maintains oral health, and may even aid in learning.

There was empirical evidence, of course: observations that were waiting to be linked up through scientific method. Many athletes routinely chew gum during competitions. The growing evidence says that this is no coincidence. Athletes chew gum because they believe it helps them relax, while not affecting their ability to remain alert and focused.

The key to this "magic" may be the brain. Studies have shown that the temperature in the facial area and brain rises during chewing. These studies also suggest that chewing alters cerebral blood flow. During chewing blood flow to the brain increases by up to 20% which, some believe, increases brain cell metabolism. In turn, the metabolic changes within the hypothalamus direct body responses via connections with the pituitary gland and the release of hormones into the bloodstream. Since chewing increases blood flow to the brain, it is thought that it may boost the ability to concentrate and thus the ability store information for later use.

The most straightforward benefit of chewing, one that can be measured in the mouth itself, is the stimulation of salivary flow. To say saliva is critical to oral and, probably, overall health is an understatement. In the past decade, saliva research has bestowed upon this viscous fluid an unparalleled importance in oral health maintenance. Saliva contains many proteins and enzymes that protect the mouth against disease and work to maintain oral health. The level of protective proteins is highest in resting, unstimulated saliva, while the levels of acid-reducing bicarbonate and enamel-sustaining mineral increase significantly during chewing. Fluoride does help protect against caries, yet its role is best described as enhancing the natural caries-fighting ability of saliva. The true preventive agent, the mouth's tireless workhorse, is saliva; the minerals it contains are essential to the maintenance of tooth enamel.

Chewing sugar-free gum also cleanses the mouth of food debris, alleviates the discomfort due to a dry mouth, neutralizes plaque acids that form after eating, helps slow plaque formation, and reduces extrinsic stain formation. Chewing even works to protect the esophagus from acid reflux by generating bicarbonate-rich saliva, which is protective of sensitive tissues.

Also worth noting is the connection that science has established between salivary flow and the regulation of healthy plaque metabolism. It is no coincidence then that the initial "white spot lesion" marking incipient caries tends to occur only in specific sites of the mouth, especially where salivary flow is low or obstructed. Now identified as a complex biofilm, plaque contains a diverse community of microorganisms that influence the homeostasis of the mouth, tipping it toward health or disease depending on the environment at the time. We are learning that plaque itself does not "cause" disease. Salivary flow, which brings nutrients to the plaque biofilm and removes waste, is a watchdog that maintains a balance in the mouth.

The importance of increased salivary flow via chewing is further stressed by emerging research indicating that a "healthy mouth" could be important to overall health as well. Studies are linking diabetes and cardiovascular diseases to inflammatory proteins in the mouth that enter the bloodstream. A number of studies suggest that chewing may play an important role in reducing oral inflammation via salivary stimulation, thus affecting overall health.

Clearly, chewing is far more than simple mastication that grinds food for ingestion. Chewing has evolved in humans over the eons and is actually hard-wired into our physiology; it plays an irreplaceable role in the metabolic processes that help us function. The benefits of chewing are just beginning to be uncovered, and the discovery that it is tied to brain metabolism is a quantum leap in our understanding of how chewing helps us maintain our health and well-being.

Certainly, Dr Scholey and other researchers around the world are giving dentists and other health professionals plenty of food for thought. As the body of evidence grows, it increasingly appears that clinicians will be able to manipulate the chewing mechanism to achieve positive health results for patients. Sometime in the not-too-distant future we may come to accept that chewing can save lives as well as teeth. [Figure 1]


  [Figure 1]


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