Parents, it seems have forever been telling their kids :Don’t chew gum (while of course doing the same out of eyesight of their offspring). Then there was the concern that the sugar variety of chewing gum would lead to more cavities and hence more dental visits, with the hit to the pocketbook. Some claimed that the act of chewing could even cause alignment issues in teeth (read: braces;$5,000).

While it is true that most sugar containing gum does lead to cavities, a new study has perhaps tipped the tables toward a certain kind of gum.  And remarkably enough this gum contains sugar-not just any sugar but sugar from the birch tree or xylitol. It turns out that this sugar , which by the way is found in many fruits, inhibits certain bacterial growth. Kids who either chewed gum, sucked on lozenges or swallowed syrup which were coated with xylitol had a 25% lower risk of developing middle ear infections.

Without a doubt middle ear infections are the most common infections in  kids treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics cause resistance to develop, so reducing the number of infections should reduce antibiotic usage and thus resistance. By the way over 90% of ear infections are viral and antibiotics are not needed. Unfortunately, too many doctors continue to prescribe antibiotics for these ear infections.

Many believe that bacteria from the mouth make their way into the Eustachian canal to the ear where they can cause infections. So reducing the number of bacteria would help decrease the risk of ear infections. Kids will be happy to know that chewing gum beat out lozenges and syrup in terms of prevention power. How much xylitol is needed? Researchers claim about 8 gram or the amount contained in two pieces of gum taken five times daily.

No my kids did not bribe me to come out in support of gum for school aged children. There undoubtedly will be pockets of resistance to this preventive strategy: Parents, for whom the thought of their young kids leaving gum on chairs, on the floor, in the couch and you name it where else, is not a particularly pleasant one; school administrators and teachers, who might not relish the idea of listening to mouth noises from thirty happy pupils during the classroom; and of course in Singapore where believe it or not chewing gum is illegal (remind me never to travel there!).