Even if you follow that standard rule of thumb—brush your teeth after breakfast and before bed—there’s still time for cavities to set in.
During that full 12 hours in between brushes, bacteria could mess with your teeth’s enamel. And that might lead to cavities, root canals, capped teeth, and maybe even dentures down the road.
(Find out what happens if you brush only once day.)
But researchers say a simple (and incredibly cheap!) trick could possibly save you hundreds, or maybe even thousands, in dental work.
Their answer? Start chewing sugar-free gum.
It’s the next best thing to brushing every time you eat.
In fact, a recent UK study about tooth decay found that the National Health Service, England’s public health system, could save more than 8 million pounds—the cost of more than 360,000 dental checkups—a year if every 12-year-old starting chewing gum after eating.
While the study was backed by the Wrigley Company, which sells gum, there’s still definitely something to it.
“Anything we can do to reduce the amount of acid and bacteria in your mouth will help prevent tooth decay,” says Matthew Messina, D.D.S., a spokesperson for the American Dental Association. “And that means less dental work over time.”
Eating or drinking anything (other than water, of course) leaves residue that feeds bacteria.
As bacteria eat the sugars that hang out in your mouth, they produce acids that then wear away your enamel.
Chewing gum not only loosens the bits of food that get stuck in your teeth, it also starts up your saliva glands and floods your mouth. The saliva washes over your teeth, picking up bacteria and acid as it goes, which you then swallow.
And there you go—you have less enamel-eating acid in your mouth.
For best results, Dr. Messina says, chew gum for at least 20 minutes after eating.
And make sure it’s sugar-free. Chewing gum that contains natural sugars will only fuel the bacteria.
Just remember—gum is a complement to your dental routine, not a replacement.
“There’s no better way to take care of your teeth than the usual brushing, flossing, and occasional check in with your dentist,” says Dr. Messina.