As a kid, a parent may have told you to chew your food more as you gulped down a meal, eager to get back to playing. Or maybe as an adult, you’ve heard that rumor that you should chew your food 32 times before swallowing. Whether you’ve heard that it’s good for your teeth, helps you lose weight, or even makes nutrients more available, we all have the vague idea that chewing your food is good for you.
Chew to Fight Infection
Researchers in the United Kingdom may have found another reason to add to the list of why we should make sure we’re properly chewing our food. A study led by Dr. Joanne Konkel of the University of Manchester found that chewing your food can help protect against infection.
In order for the immune system to use antigens to fight off pathogens that could harm the body, it has to create cells known as T helper 17 cells — or Th27 for short. Dr. Konkel’s research team believed that the process of chewing one’s food, also called mastication, played a role in the production of oral Th27 cells. To measure that, researchers first fed mice soft-textured foods for 24 weeks. After the weeks of decreased chewing, the release of oral Th27 cells was measured. Sure enough, the team found noticeably lower production of the cells.
To confirm the findings, the team then manually caused abrasion to the teeth of the mice to simulate the effects of chewing. As they had hypothesized, the Th27 cell production increased once again.
Chewing: Helping or Hurting?
These findings by Dr. Konkel’s team create an interesting dilemma. On the one hand, this research suggests that mastication may be the main method by which the mouth stimulates the production of the Th27 cells necessary to fend off oral infections, such as a gum disease.
On the other hand, overproduction of these cells can actually increase your risk of gum disease. Not to mention that repeated or elevated stress on the teeth and jaw can lead to all sorts of problems, from wear and tear to TMJ and more. This puts us into a Goldilocks-like position of figuring out how much chewing is too much, how much chewing is not enough, and how much chewing is just right.
In the end, as fascinating as studies like these are, until researchers have been able to more exactly locate the connections between mastication and infection, the best way to fight gum disease remains simple: Good oral hygiene.
Healthy gums are a direct result of ensuring that you brush your teeth at least twice a day, floss daily, and make sure you see your dentist for regular checkups and cleanings. Most people should see their dentist once or twice a year, but you should consult with your dentist for a schedule that best suits your oral health.