A combination of rubber, sweeteners and food coloring is what makes up most of the modern chewing gum sold today. In the past, most chewing gum manufacturers used synthetic rubber or “chicle,” a resin from rain forest trees, as the base. Today, however, the company Glee Glum claims to be the only remaining U.S. gum manufacturer to still use chicle as its gum base.
Before most chewing gum brands employed sugar substitutes, excessive gum chewing was not considered conducive to oral health. Today, most chewing gum brands use artificial sweeteners, including aspartame, acesulfame potassium, and sucralose, and do not pose the same cavity threat to oral hygiene. Meanwhile, chewing gum that is medicated, such as nicotine gum, may provide the health benefit of assisting the chewer in smoking cessation; however it may also become unhealthy if it becomes abused or addicting in itself.
The United States military has distributed chewing gum for decades directly to its soldiers, believing that chewing gum improves concentration and relieve stress. As well, New Zealand’s Defense Force has introduced a chewing gum called Recaldent into their distributed ration packs, as the gum has been shown to combat tooth decay.
In 2008, an article published by Canwest News reported that acetic acid ethenyl ester, a common substance found in chewing gum, was being investigated by Health Canada and could soon be labeled toxic by Canada’s federal government. Also known as vinyl acetate, the substance is often used as a flavoring agent in chewing gum, and has been found to potentially cause cancer in lab rats during a study conducted by an international agency. Vinyl acetate is also used to produce deodorizers, perfumes, paints, and other products.
One common myth concerning the potential health risks of chewing gum is that it takes several years to digest. Although chewing gum is often labeled “indigestible,” as it resists the body’s natural efforts to digest food, it is eliminated from the body in the same manner and time frame as regular food.