Incessant gum chewers could be onto something.
Besides freshening your breath and improving dental health, new research has shown that chewing sugar-free gum helps people concentrate for longer, possibly by increasing blood flow to the brain, and previous studies have suggested it can also reduce chronic stress.
The most recent chewing gum study, published last month by researchers at Cardiff University, asked one group of people to chew gum and another not to, as they completed a 30-minute audio memory task that involved listening to a list of numbers and spotting certain sequences.
Those who chewed gum had quicker reactions and were more accurate than those who didn’t, especially towards the end of the task.
Previous research has found chewing gum can benefit various areas of cognition, and Dr Chris Miles, who led the latest Cardiff research, says: ‘Studies show that chewing gum makes people feel more alert.
‘There’s quite good evidence that chewing gum increases the flow of oxygenated blood to certain areas of the brain. It seems this continuous motion of chewing is what helps.’
But as well as fresh minty breath and increased alertness, chewing gum has an additional strength. A 2011 review also carried out by Cardiff University psychologists found some evidence that chewing gum reduces chronic stress.
The Cardiff studies didn’t look at the effect gum has on oral health, but Mintel research in December last year found that almost 58 per cent of chewing gum users believe chewing gum helps keep teeth healthy.
And they’re right, says John Weld, clinical director at the University of Portsmouth’s Dental Academy.
‘The benefits of sugar-free chewing gum extend far beyond the mere act of just chewing,’ he says.
‘Scientific results demonstrate chewing gum’s positive contributions to the health of the mouth and teeth.’
He explains: ‘Chewing stimulates saliva flow and saliva dilutes the acids caused by bacteria in your mouth to reduce plaque and dental decay.
‘Chewing helps to strengthen teeth and keep gums healthy. It promotes teeth whitening by reducing and even preventing staining.
‘Chewing also lessens the need to snack. Frequent snacking is a major cause of dental decay, obesity and diabetes.’