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Published on March 29th, 2012 | by Staff 12-13

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A sticky situation: the benefits of gum

Alison Guh
Staff Writer

From spearmint to strawberry, bubblegum to blueberry, gum has always been a tasty way to freshen your breath and stave off hunger. However, chewing gum has many other surprising benefits, including brightening teeth and improving test scores.

According to a study conducted by the International Chewing Gum Association (ICGA), chewing gum can help improve dental health and hygiene. Chewing gum stimulates the production of saliva by up to ten times, which helps neutralize acids from foods that may cause tooth decay. Saliva also helps repair early dental lesions through re-mineralization of the tooth’s surface. Many dental professionals recommend sugar-free gum as an aid for oral health and a preventive measure for tooth decay.

When the University of York Health Economics Consortium investigated the economic impact of chewing sugar-free gum, they concluded that if the entire British population chewed sugar-free gum, the National Health Service (NHS) could save roughly over £100 million (approximately 133 million US dollars)  per year on dental care.

Furthermore, various studies have proven that chewing gum results in higher levels of concentration and overall improved test scores. A recent study by a team of psychologists at St. Lawrence University gave 159 students an array of demanding cognitive tasks that ranged from repeating random numbers backward to solving difficult logic puzzles. Half of the subjects chewed gum, while the other half were given nothing. The subjects who chewed gum, both sugar and sugar-free, significantly outperformed those in the control condition on five out of six tests.
According to the researchers, the elevated attention levels created by chewing gum don’t appear to depend on glucose, since sugar-free gum generated the same benefits. Instead, they suggest that the act of chewing wakes people up, ensuring that they are fully focused on the task at hand.

However, the focusing benefits of gum chewing were proven to be short-lived, as gum chewers only showed an increase in performance during the first 20 minutes of testing. After that, they performed identically to non-chewers. Therefore, when you’re taking a test or even the SAT, save the gum for the hardest part or for those questions when you lose focus.

Gum’s powers as an intellectual stimulant has been further proven by studies conducted by Andrew Scholey of the University of Northumbria in Newcastle, United Kingdom. Scholey’s trials indicate that chewing gum can improve memory. He found that people who chewed throughout tests of both long-term and short-term memory produced significantly better scores than people who did not.
In the experiment, one-third of the 75 adults tested chewed gum during the 20-minute battery of memory and attention tests, one-third mimicked chewing movements and the remainder did not chew at all. Those chewing gum had scores 24 percent higher than those who did not chew at all or those who mimicked chewing movements on tests of immediate word recall, and 36 percent higher on tests of delayed word recall. They were also more accurate on tests of spatial working memory.

It appears that gum may be more than just a sugary snack.

aguh@thesamohi.com


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