Doctor Eclectic

Doctor Eclectic
Doctor Eclectic

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Chew-Chew-Chew

Cortez and the Aztecs
Gum may have been chewed as early as 2000 BC, since the tree sap used in the original product was known to the Mayans as chewable and it was right in their Mesoamerican backyard. Europeans were first introduced to it when they conquered the Aztecs and Maya civilizations, trading syphilis and typhoid for the subtly sweet and sugary stuff.  Recent changes in what we can buy today calls for an investigation of what is out there and what are good choices.

Actually, before we can look at today’s gum, we need to know a little history.

The first gum in the United States was introduced, not surprisingly by William Wrigley, who thought it would be a giveaway enticement to give him a marketing advantage for his baking soda.  He packaged the two together in 1892 and sales did indeed increase.  However, public comment was strong and he immediately decided to launch the new product individually.  He chose the name Juicy Fruit and within a year gum sales exceeded his baking soda sales.

son, Sean and Grandson, Ryan
1906 Chicago Cubs
He experimented with other flavors and soon other companies came into the market.  Not too long afterwards the Chicle, used as the vehicle for flavor and sugar became too expensive.  Fortunately the rubber products being designed for use in tires, among other things, provided a cheaper alternative.  The process for making gum has remained inherently the same since Wrigley introduced it.  Would that his beloved Cubs had remained the same as the 1906 team, but then he didn’t buy the club until 1921.

Although the process for making gum remains much the same, the chewy vehicle has dramatically changed and alternatives, most with trademark specificity and secrecy abound.  My favorite is a product called Felix, which was manufactured in Japan when our family lived on a Naval Base in the Philippine Islands.  When we left for the States, both of my boys, aged then twelve and sixteen brought a survivor supply with them, some of which is still there today, thirty years later.  I’m sure it would pretty much chew the same; since everyone was convinced the binder vehicle was whale blubber, with an unknown shelf life.

For the last decade at least most gums are offered with a sucrose sugar alternative, and sales of sugar-free gum far surpass sales of the original recipes.  There are at least three common sugar substitutes, Aspartame, Saccharin, and Erythitol.   These are often combined with sugars other than Sucrose; e.g. Dextrose, to lessen or eliminate the caloric levels of the product.  Gums with sugar substitutes are equally effective in cleansing the teeth and in increasing saliva flow, a major benefit for the elderly, many of whom take medicines with a saliva depressing side effect.

The most recent substitute is a sugar that not only substitutes, but competes with sucrose: Xylitol.  As more and more studies are completed, the value of using Xylitol, not only in chewing gum but also in candies and impregnated in products that can transfer it to the oral cavity, such as nursing bottle nipples becomes overwhelming.

In order to be effective 10 mg. of Xylitol have to be delivered to the mouth a day.  At that level, decay causing bacteria are literally blocked from converting any carbohydrate to an acid, thereby lowering the pH to a level where tooth surfaces can be attacked.  Unfortunately, many of the gums that are on the market, including some approved by the American Dental Association, have less than 5 mg. of Xylitol per stick, the recommended dosage for a twice a day regime.

First 5 California
Some of you may have been puzzled as to why it is suggested that a child go to the dentist by age one.  The reason is that the dentist can then measure the levels of decay causing bacteria in the mother at a time where intervention, such as chewing Xylitol gum, can be initiated to prevent her transferring the dangerous bacteria to the child.

There is another problem with using Xylitol gum therapeutically: only about half the population consider themselves as “gum chewers”, defined as chewing gum almost every day.  For the rest of us, chewing gum is almost uncomfortable.  Oh, well, there are other ways to reduce the pH in the mouth, which is now thought to be the easiest and best way to control dental decay.
The relationship between gum and dental care has been around for a long time.  I chose the title of this post from a Mike Nichols-Elaine May skit where Nichols is a Dentist and May a Dental Hygienist.  I hoped to find that on YouTube but was unsuccessful.  I did find another that I thought funny and a May tribute to Nichols that I found hilarious.

I think my next post will be more serious.  I have friends recently who have needed hospice.  I found I know little about when and why that developed and even more interestingly how it is funded.  I’m going to check on that.  Visit me next time and see what I found.

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