Gum for Kids!! Good or Gimmick?
I am routinely approached by parents and asked about different products on the market, new and old, as parents search up and down store isles and rummage the web for ways of fending off cavities in their children. Visit my column Product Reviews at PedatricDentistSanDiego.com for my report on the most common/interesting products on the market. (I have no stake or affiliation with any product reviewed in this series.)
On July 2013 the world’s gum powerhouse, Wrigley, has launch a product line aimed at kids, Orbit for Kids ™. Its not uncommon for a gum manufacturer to experiment with new flavors, packaging, or even ingredient; but the move to push a product that “Helps Protect Teeth” “for kids” certainly raises some questions about the plausibility of their claims. Here’s my review of this product:
Clinical Exam (the outside)
The packaging is shiny and appealing to kids. The message, clearly targeted at parentsclaims the product is for healthy teeth. It even sports the American Dental Association’s seal. Packaging is either in the familiar 14 piece envelopes, or their “family convenient” marketed Multipack Bags. Each bag is filled with 10 micro Packs. The 2 flavors, bubble gum and strawberry banana, are more popular with kids than the typical minty classics.
X-ray Exam (the inside)
The ingredients are all pretty much the common stuff you find in regular gums. Their first listed ingredient with most volume is Sorbitol, a sugar substitute to knock down calories
per serving. Wrigley uses a synthetic gum base to keep you chewing. Then, they list Xylitol, another sugar that does not cause cavities. There are some studies that point to a dose-dependent benefit that xylitol may actually change the metabolism of the bacteria and help decrease their ability to cause cavities, but high quality research is lacking here, not to mention your kid would have to have several packs of gum a day to reach the therapeutic dosages that the research suggests. Then we have Glycerin which keeps the gum soft and consistent. Then we get into the soup of weird and “less than 2%” components which are the most concerning ingredients to me: artificial flavor (linked to aggravating ADHD and ADD symptoms), aspartame (artificial sweetener linked with increase cancer in mice), artificial color (also linked to ADD/ADHD issues), and BHT (also linked with increased cancer in some animals). Of course, these ingredients are everywhere and in so many processed foods given to kids, but I’m a fan of minimizing children’s exposure to chemicals whenever possible. I really have to question the pro’s of exposing children to these chemicals with no substantive research evidence to back up benefits specifically to these children.
Put to the parent test (the real side)
The samples I tested and gave to my daughter were generally well received. My 5 year old has never been a fan of gum and to say she’s a picky eater is an understatement. With some coaxing, she tried the two flavors and said “I like it….bubble gum was better daddy”. She’s younger than the audience that Orbit is after and her jaw got tired and the initial burst of flavor ran out before she could get into it too much. In fact, half of a single piece was more than what she could chew comfortably. The consistency of the gum seems a bit softer and slipperier than what I’m used to, and I wonder if they’ve done that to make it easier to chew. The softer base seems to also be more sticky and i would not want either of my daughters falling asleep with that stuff in their mouth, on their hair, or on the car seat.
Report card (please sign and return on Monday)
I really am not convinced that this product is any real improvement over other options on the market. Its best features are kids friendly taste and packaging. There just isn’t enough research to convince me that the chemicals in this processed product are safe and effective enough worth recommending to the average child for prevention of decay.
Extra Credit (for the geek parents like me)
Worth noting, Sorbitol gums have been shown to not cause cavities when consumed no more than 3 times per day. For the regular gum users, it might be harder to push a “sugar-free” sorbitol gum as one that won’t cause cavities. Xylitol gums on the other hand won’t cause cavities at any frequency. So, this gum may not be the best option for fighting cavities, when there are xylitol only gums around on the market.