/ Family

Should you let your children chew gum?

  • Lucy Thomas     -
  •      November 1, 2023     -

As children grow up they experiment with all types of candy, and as parents, it’s a justifiable question to what extent they should be allowed or supervised as they discover them. Outside of the debate over what amount of sugar is right for children – where opinions diverge – many parents are wondering whether chewing gum should be allowed.

As recommended by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), you should not allow children under the age of five chew gum. This is because children under this age may not be able to chew gum safely and may swallow it. Swallowing gum can lead to digestive problems and even blockages in the intestines.

Over this age, chewing gum is often allowed by parents, but because the act of chewing is often considered rude in schools, it is frowned upon. Yet, chewing gum has a long list of benefits, related to focus and disease prevention.

Xylitol, the sweeteners used in sugar-free chewing gum (preferably opt for sugar-free options for your children), is associated with a reduction in acute otitis media (AOM), also known as middle ear infection. This 2016 study showed that the risk of AOM was reduced from 30% to 22% within the control group (Finnish children in day care). The sweetener has also been shown to reduce the level of salivary Streptococcus mutans : “The results showed that the number of mothers and children with high streptococcus levels in the experimental group decreased to a statistically significant level at the end of the three month period, similarly, the control mothers showed the same trend. A statistically significant decrease in plaque scores was evident only among the children’s experimental group.”

Then of course there’s the more widely known effect of the reduction in dental caries, which are an unfortunate reality for children as well. In a study with Hungarian children, a 2001 study found a 38.7% reduction in incremental caries, excluding white spots. A clinical trial with Puerto Rican children also showed a noticeable reduction in dental caries after school meals, following the introduction of sugar-free gum.

As children will also occasionally have to undergo routine painful medical procedures, chewing gum has been shown to reduce pain and stress for children undergoing vaccination and regular blood draws. “Mastication (chewing) is an effective behavior for coping with stress, likely due to the alterations chewing causes in the activity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and autonomic nervous system”, the researchers found.

It is important to note that overall, the effect of chewing gum as a focus helper and mood booster is undervalued, and that chewing sugar-free gum to alleviate stress is not sufficiently recognised by educators. Of course, chewing gum for children over the age of five should come with the necessary education, particularly as it relates to preventing them from swallowing the gum. That said, sugar-free gum is a much preferable sweet treat to high-sugar sweets and candies that children might be drawn to, particularly as they come with scientifically recognised health benefits.

Bill Wirtz is the Senior Policy Analyst at the Consumer Choice Center.