If you had a choice between chewing on a wad of tree sap, a mouthful of rubber bands or a stick of gum, which would you choose? If the answer seems obvious, you may be surprised. All three have more in common than most people realize.
Chewing gum has a history — a long, long, loooong history. In fact, the oldest piece of chewing gum ever found is thought to be 9,000 years old!
Many years before Columbus landed in America, citizens of the world were chewing gum and popping bubbles. The ancient Greeks chewed “mastiche,” while the Mayan Indians were busy chomping on “chicle.”
Before World War II, gum was still made from chicle. That’s right! The same stuff Mayan Indians had been chomping on for centuries. Chicle is a latex sap derived from the sapodilla, a native central America tree.
Latex? It’s true. Chicle is a form of rubber, and just as a rubber band wouldn’t dissolve in your mouth if you chewed it, neither does chicle.
One of the advantages of chicle is that it softens when warmed by the heat of your mouth. This makes it highly chewable.
After World War II, the demand for gum continued to rise, and chemists began looking for an alternative to chicle. Though some gums are still derived from natural sources, many modern recipes use synthetic rubber bases.
In order to make the gum more palatable, manufacturers mix in sugar and flavorings. As you chew the gum, the rubber releases the flavors in your mouth. Sometimes softeners such as glycerin or vegetable oil are also added to keep the gum moist.
Your teachers may not allow you to snap-crack-and-pop in school, but there are real advantages to chewing gum. While it is no replacement for brushing and flossing, one of the major benefits is that gum can actually help clean your teeth.
As you chew, the gum stimulates saliva production, which helps neutralize acids in the mouth that can lead to tooth decay. Some studies suggest the physical act of chewing gum can also help you stay alert, relax and curb your appetite for a snack.
Gum fun facts
- Smile! The first patent for chewing gum was issued in 1869 to William F. Semple of Mount Vernon, Ohio. His occupation? Dentist!
- A whole lotta chewin’ going on: There are more than 1,000 varieties of gum manufactured and sold in the United States.
- Save your pennies: Each year in North America, kids spend approximately half a billion dollars on gum.