Functional vs. Confectionary Gum: “Chews” Wisely

Dr. Franco is an accomplished physician with a long career distinguished by renowned research, global teaching, speaking and collaboration, and a thriving medical practice at Massachusetts Eye and Ear, Harvard University. He is a co-founder of Reflux Gourmet.

FINDING CONSENSUS IN MEDICINE seems so elusive these days. We’ve all seen that commercial where 4 out of 5 dentists would choose a certain toothpaste or gum, but what would it take to get all 5 to agree? As a physician, weighing all the options in my daily practice, I frequently think of that lone dentist of myth from my youth; I always admired how the last dentist did not succumb to the peer pressure, but held on to their beliefs. I did wonder what it would take for them to join their peers in recommending a gum product. Would the gum need to have special powers beyond tasting good? Would it need to have ingredients that were natural and could confer health benefits, too? 


I wonder if they ever knew about functional gum?


Unlike the confectionary (or candy) gum on any convenience store shelf, functional gum is chewing gum that contains active ingredients to help complaints ranging from fatigue, nicotine cravings, and dry mouth to reflux! Need to stay up to study for a test, or for the next 150 miles as a long-haul trucker? There’s a functional gum for that. Want to reduce your nicotine cravings while you quit smoking? There’s a gum for that, too. In fact, there is a growing array of functional gums that deliver vitamin supplements, neural enhancements for alertness and memory, and (just recently debuted) alginate to soothe the esophagus in an easy-to-carry form that fits easily in a pocket.

Functional gum is chewing gum that adds active ingredients to help complaints ranging from fatigue, nicotine cravings, dry mouth to reflux!

Functional gum can look and feel very different than confectionary gum due to the addition of those active ingredients. If functional gum were manufactured and processed in the same manner as candy gum, the active ingredients would be damaged and rendered ineffective. 


Commonly noted differences between functional and confectionary gum boils down to things like size, stability, and taste. Frequently, each piece tends to be larger in order to pack in the active ingredients that make it “functional.” If there are dry components, this can lead to gum that is at first brittle and falls apart with initial chewing only to “gum up” as the ingredients dissolve in the saliva and mix together. As with many more “natural” products, it may be sensitive to temperature as a result of the decreased processing functional gum endures to produce a more active and wholesome end result. Taste can be unique as the active ingredients can shift the flavor profile. In many cases, there is a compromise that is struck between the function of the gum and the gum chewing experience – like the difference between Wonder Bread and your grandmother’s nutritious homemade whole wheat bread.


If you are going to chew gum for reflux, it is best to chew a sugar-free gum containing xylitol, as it has been shown to reduce the bacteria that causes cavities and plaque. Chewing gum has been shown to improve dental health by scrubbing plaque off of teeth in hard-to-reach places between brushing, and increasing saliva production necessary for proper dental health. The increased saliva production also introduces natural bicarbonate into the esophagus to help neutralize acid from reflux; hence, gum with bicarbonate would be best for reflux. Additionally, chewing gum and swallowing the extra saliva produced stimulates peristalsis, the natural rhythmic contractions of the esophagus to propel food and liquids (including those things refluxed into the esophagus) back to the stomach where they belong. Other choice active ingredients to promote relief from reflux would be soothing, protective, and prodigestive – such as ginger, aloe, and celery root.


As with anything, gum chewing is not for everyone. Those with loose or missing teeth, braces, sensitive teeth or TMJ issues may opt for alternate avenues for relief.


As I consider again that 5th holdout practitioner, I think the future is bright for functional gum! As its prevalence expands the number of conditions it addresses and users love the convenience of chewing gum to get the proffered health advantages from these products, there seems to be little downside. 


Is functional gum the Great Uniter that heals the dental community, bringing that 5th dentist we all grew up wondering about into the fold by allowing them join their peers AND remain true to their principles? Is this the first time in my long medical journey I will witness medical consensus?


It just may be. Chews wisely.



This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Reflux Gourmet.
“REFLUX GOURMET” and related trademarks are trademarks of Reflux Gourmet LLC. All material appearing on the Reflux Gourmet website (“content”) is protected by copyright under U.S. Copyright laws and is the property of Reflux Gourmet and/or the party credited as the provider of the content. You may not copy, reproduce, distribute, publish, display, perform, modify, create derivative works, transmit, or in any way exploit any such content, nor may you distribute any part of this content over any network, including a local area network, sell or offer for sale, or use such content to construct any kind of database. For permission to use the content on the Reflux Gourmet website, please contact