We have all heard the rumors: swallow a piece of chewing gum, and you are stuck with it for the next seven years. Yet is chewing gum actually harmful?
The simple answer is usually not. Some components of gum, such as sweeteners, are actually digested. Yet even the rest is easy for the body to eliminate. Just like typical foods, the base of chewing gum travels down the stomach, into the intestines, and out of the body.
Pediatric gastroenterologist David Milov of the Nemours Children’s Clinic in Orlando, Florida, explains, “gum is pretty immune to the digestive process. It probably passes through slower than most foodstuffs, but eventually the normal housekeeping waves in the digestive tract will sort of push it through, and it will come out pretty unmolested.”
Forget seven years; in fact, piece of chewing gum generally does not stay in one’s body for more than seven days.
Yet even if gum does not remain with you for years, swallowing the substance may lead to other negative consequences. In 1998, studies published in Pediatrics reported three cases of children who developed intestinal and esophageal obstructions due to chronic gum swallowing. The most severe case involved a one and a half year old girl who had four coins stuck to the side of her esophagus with a “peculiar, sticky, wax-like substance.”
Aside from swallowing gum, even the simple act of chewing may not be completely harmless. For example, the additive sorbitol used in sugarless gum can lead to diarrhea and abdominal pain. In addition, mouth ulcers have been associated with cinnamon, another common additive, and gum chewing can also lead to mechanical tooth injuries. However, these are rare occurrences, most frequently affecting chronic gum chewers.
To sum, the occasional swallowing of chewing gum is not harmful, but it would be wise to avoid making this a habit. In order to avoid a potentially sticky situation, it is good practice to spit out your chewing gum.