Medical Uses

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

The Greek physician, pharmacologist, and botanist Pedanius Dioscorides first used powdered mastiche as dental and intestinal medicine on the Isle of Chios around 50 c.e. In 1882 Ohio physician Edward Beeman, at the suggestion of his bookkeeper Nellie Horton, added to chewing gum the pepsin powder he had compounded as an aid to digestion. In 1899 druggist Franklin V. Canning created a gum designed to clean teeth and breath. He combined the words “dental” and “hygiene” to arrive at the name Dentyne. Over the ensuing years other medicines like penicillin and acetaminophen have been added to gum in the belief that gum maintains the potency of medicaments and that the long-chewing product slowly and evenly distributes remedies throughout the body. It is commonly believed that chewing gum helps humans relax, relieves inner ear pressure, and may also stimulate saliva and digestion. Twenty-first-century research suggests that chewing sugarless gum after colon cancer surgery can speed recovery and shorten hospital stays by as much as one-third. The connection between gum and health is complicated and should be considered on a case-by-case basis—after all, gums come in astounding variety, from candied gum that looks like real cigarettes and cigars complete with powdered sugar “smoke,” to nicotine-laced gum that counteracts the urge to smoke.