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Chewing sugarless gum after meals reduces cavities

When kids bring home a bag of sugared goodies at Halloween, be forewarned: gooey or chewy sweets give teeth a longer sugar bath because sticky snacks stay in the mouth longer than foods that are quickly chewed and swallowed.

"The best way to handle Halloween treats is for parents to limit the amount of snacks and time they enjoy them, and then have their kids brush immediately afterwards," says Charles Perle, DMD, FAGD, spokesperson for the Academy.

Since sugar-free gum is one treat that actually helps prevent cavities, it might be a smart choice to drop in Halloween bags this year. Parents can also give it to their children to help neutralize the effects of sugary snacks after eating.

Long-term clinical trials show that cavities are reduced by chewing sugar-free gum that contains the artificial sweeteners sorbitol and xylitol. The chewing motion stimulates the flow of saliva which helps cleanse the teeth. Sweets are especially harmful, since damaging acids form in the mouth every time you eat a sugary snack, and continue to affect the teeth for at least 20 minutes before they are neutralized. But research shows that the sweetening agents in sugarless gum are effective in combating the bacteria in plaque and fighting the acid that eats away at enamel. Sugared gum produced those results in some short-term trials, but long-term clinical trials don't support its use.

"Only sugar-free gum can be recommended for both after meals and snacks," says Dr. Perle.

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