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HEALTH ANSWERS

Is chewing gum good for you?

The sugarless kind is, at least as far as your teeth are concerned.

Chewing gum, either sugar-free or sugary, ``causes us to salivate, and saliva has tremendously beneficial effects," said Dr. Matthew Messina , a Cleveland dentist who is a consumer adviser for the American Dental Association. Saliva ``is a buffering solution. It washes the teeth."

Sugary chewing gum is not a good idea, though. Sugar causes bacteria in the mouth to secrete acid, which dissolves tooth enamel, causing cavities. ``So if you chew sugared gum, you still get the increased saliva flow but you are defeating the benefit because you have the sugar," Messina said.

If you have TMJ (temporomandibular joint) problems, chewing gum, either sugary or sugar-free, may be detrimental because you should be trying to reduce muscle tension in the jaw, not increase it.

As for the rest of the body? Sugary gum contains calories that you may not need. But sugarless gum containing sorbitol can cause diarrhea and bloating, said Dr. David Metz , associate chief of the gastrointestinal division for clinical affairs at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and a spokesman for the American Gastroenterological Association.

JUDY FOREMAN

E-mail health questions to Foreman@globe.com.

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