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Your health: How important is zinc? Is gum chewing safe for your teeth?

Zinc is second only to iron in its abundance in the body — it is present in every cell.

There are a lot of factors to consider in the debate about gum-chewing.
There are a lot of factors to consider in the debate about gum-chewing.
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Q. What role does zinc play in the body?

A. Zinc is an essential nutrient (meaning that your body can’t produce zinc, so it must be consumed daily through food or supplements). This vital nutrient is used by the body in many ways.

Zinc is second only to iron in its abundance in the body — it is present in every cell. This mineral is necessary for the activity of more than 300 enzymes that are used in metabolism, digestion of food, nerve function, and several other functions. Also important is zinc’s role in supporting the immune system — zinc is a key factor in the development and the function and activity of immune cells.

Zinc is also an important compound in promoting skin health, protein production, and the synthesis of DNA, as well as playing an important role in cell growth and division. The senses of taste and smell are also involved — one of the enzymes that is needed for taste and smell is dependent on zinc. Zinc can be found in several kinds of foods, including meat, poultry, oysters, beans, nuts, fortified breakfast cereals and dairy products.

Q. Is chewing gum safe for my teeth and dental health?

A. Like many issues, there are a lot of factors to consider in the debate about gum-chewing, but this answer focuses only on the dental considerations of chewing gum.

The American Dental Association (ADA) notes that chewing sugar-containing gum may increase the risk of dental caries while chewing sugar-free gum is “non-cariogenic” (it does not contribute to risk of dental caries or cavities).

The act of chewing helps to increase the amount of saliva in the mouth so, if gum is chewed after a meal, this increased amount of saliva can help reduce plaque acid, strengthen the teeth, and help reduce tooth decay. Sugar-free chewing gums (sweetened with non-cavity-causing sweeteners such as sorbitol, mannitol or aspartame) can receive the ADA Seal of Acceptance to show that they meet the necessary criteria for safety and efficacy. So, if you are currently a gum chewer (and can do so safely), take a close look at your product to be sure it is sugar-free and ADA approved.

Environmental Nutrition is the award-winning independent newsletter written by nutrition experts dedicated to providing readers up-to-date, accurate information about health and nutrition.