Swallowing Chewing Gum: Is It Really That Bad?

By:    Published: February 10, 2012

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Countless people have heard the myth that if you swallow a piece of gum, it takes seven years to fully digest. Others claim that swallowing chewing gum can take quite a toll on your digestive system. But is swallowing gum really that bad for you? The truth doesn’t quite match up with the myth, plus there may be some benefits to chewing gum that you were not aware of before.

How Your Body Digests Gum

If you chew gum regularly, odds are you may have accidentally swallowed a piece at some point in your life. The common myth is that when a piece of gum is swallowed, it will take the person’s body seven years to digest it. The idea of having a glob of chewing gum sitting in the pit of your stomachs is an uneasy thought for most, but the good news is that this myth has been totally debunked by scientists.

(For more fun, health-related myths, read about the 7 Worst Weight-Loss Myths For Your Body.)

According to Scientific American, the rumor of taking seven years to digest gum is not true in any way. It’s extremely rare for doctors to find pieces of chewing gum in the digestive tract. Furthermore, if they do come across some gum while performing a colonoscopy or endoscopy procedure, the gum has usually been swallowed within the past week as opposed to months or years beforehand.

Gum isn’t the most easily digested food, however. Most of it does stay intact when passing through the digestive system. Only a few components in most chewing gums, such as sweeteners, are able to be digested. The rest of the ingredients – like resins, preservatives and natural or synthetic elastomers – stay relatively intact and pass through the system. Typically, gum stays in the digestive system only a little longer than most foods due to its largely indigestible composition.

Health Benefits Of Chewing Gum

Many people are surprised to learn that there are actually numerous health benefits associated with chewing gum, including:

  • Stronger teeth. When you chew gum, it increases the flow of saliva in your mouth. This helps to neutralize and wash away the acids that form on the teeth when you eat food. Less acid typically results in less breakdown of the tooth enamel, which means that your teeth are stronger and more resilient. It also helps prevent gum bleeding and reduces the risk of getting gingivitis.
  • Prevent tooth decay. Because chewing gum helps protect the enamel on your teeth, it also helps to prevent tooth decay. According to the American Dental Association, chewing sugarless gum for 20 minutes after meals can help prevent tooth decay.
  • Appetite reduction. Studies have found that those who regularly chew gum tend to get hungry less often and eat fewer high-calorie snacks. Chewing gum may also help to reduce the craving for sweet foods.
  • Better test scores. Although further studies are needed before the findings can be called conclusive, students who chew gum while taking a test have been found to get higher scores.
  • Increased focus. Many teachers have reported that their students who chew gum tend to require fewer breaks during a lesson. They also were quieter and paid more attention than their peers who were not chewing gum. Further studies are required to confirm these findings.

(For more information regarding tooth decay, read The Main Causes Of Cavities And Tooth Decay.)

Health Risks Of Chewing Gum

Chewing gum does pose a few minor health risks. To be safe, do not do the following when chewing gum:

  • Don’t swallow your gum regularly. Although it is largely harmless to do this, swallowed gum could potentially adhere to other foods in your digestive system. The combination of these elements could cause a blockage in the digestive tract or a bout of constipation. In addition, swallowing your gum regularly could cause a large mass of gum to form in the stomach, which could potentially require surgery to remove.
  • Don’t let small children have gum very often. It’s up to parents to decide when their child is old enough to chew gum, but children are naturally more susceptible to choking on their gum if they were to swallow it. Additionally, they may not be aware or might not remember that gum shouldn’t be swallowed, which can be dangerous since the digestive problems described in the tip above are more likely to occur in children.

Choosing The Best Chewing Gum

There are certain things to look for in your gum if you want to get the health benefits described above. Make sure you choose a sugarless gum which is sweetened with non-cavity causing, artificial sweeteners. You can also look for gum products which have packaging that says they can help reduce plaque or prevent tooth decay. For the best results, choose a gum that has the ADA seal on it.

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