Just How Long Have Humans Chewed Gum?

Did you know that humans have used animal hair to make toothbrushes, or that we’ve crushed shells to use as toothpaste? Over the years, humanity has had its ups and downs when discovering and designing medical technologies – especially oral careBut what about chewing gum? How long have we chewed gum, and has it ever helped clean teeth throughout history? 

Neolithic Tree Gum

Did you know that chewing gum has existed in some form or another since the Neolithic period? In fact, 6,000 year old chewing gum has been found with teeth marks in it, made from birch bark tar. Tree bark is a very popular source of gum, and many cultures derived gum from trees. 


The ancient Greeks didn’t invent gum, nor were they the first to chew it. However, they are one of the most well known historical cultures to be documented first chewing gum en masse. The ancient Greeks chewed the resin contained in the bark of the mastic tree. Grecian women would chew the bark to clean their teeth and freshen their breath. Mastic gum actually has antiseptic properties, and was believed by the Greeks to contribute to better oral health.  

Central America

The Ancient Mayans of Central America are credited with creating an intricate calendar, developing basic astronomy, and writing in their own hieroglyphs. The Mayans were way ahead of their time in terms of trade, technology and architecture, but they were also very studious farmers, which led them to the sapodilla tree. The Mayans would boil the sap of the sapodilla tree and use it for glue, and in religious ceremonies. Sometimes, the boiled sap was given to children to chew and called “cha.”  

Gum Today 

Gum had a major advancement in the 1848, when American businessman John B. Curtis saw a market opportunity for chewing gum. Curtis began making gum out of the resin of the spruce tree – a popular form of gum among Native Americans of the time. Curtis called his gum “State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum.” For the first few years of his new business, selling gum was hard. However, Curtis saw a major uptick in sales when he started rolling his gum sugar, and he began expanding his operations. In fact, Curtis’ business – Curtis & Son – is credited with inventing the machinery responsible for mass-producing gum.  

Can Gum Clean Teeth? Some Can…

Most chewing gum can’t claim to help clean your teeth, but gum sweetened with xylitol can. That’s because xylitol helps stimulate saliva production, which naturally cleans teeth. The mouth fights cavities by producing saliva to wash away food debris, and restore its proper Ph balance. Xylitol naturally stimulates saliva that aids in overall oral health. Increased saliva can help prevent bad breath by eliminating dry mouth, and prevent prolonged exposure to acid and sugar caused by food debris. 

Chewing Xylitol gum is not a substitute for regular brushing and flossing, but it is a good tool for cleaning your teeth on the go!  

Visit Our Office

Chewing gum won’t clean your children’s teeth or magically get rid of cavities. If your child complains of sensitive teeth, or tender gums, then visit our office so that we can evaluate their oral health. We’ll help them get a healthy, and give you practical oral healthcare tips that you can use at home.