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Some gum chewers faithfully wrap their old gum in a wrapper and seek out a garbage can to dispose of it properly when they're done with it. Others skip the fuss and just swallow it...but is this safe?

You have likely heard about the dangers of swallowing chewing gum. Perhaps someone told you when you were little that it would stay in your stomach for seven years, and you were nervous enough never to swallow it again. Swallowing chewing gum is not as bad as you think, though, in rare cases, it can negatively affect our health.

What Is In Chewing Gum?

When figuring out whether swallowing chewing gum is bad for you, it helps to understand the ingredients in this popular food.

Every type of gum contains the same four basic components: gum base, flavor, color, and sweeteners. Flavoring, coloring, and sweeteners are common in many processed and prepared foods, but gum base is unique to chewing gum: it is an insoluble base with no nutritional value, made of natural or synthetic gum, softeners, and texturizers. According to the International Chewing Gum Association, each ingredient in gum, including gum base, was extensively studied and shown to be safe.

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What Happens When You Swallow Gum?

Although gum base is not harmful, it is not meant to be swallowed. It does not contain any nutrients, and your body cannot break it down like other foods you eat. Instead, your digestive tract uses peristalsis to slowly move the swallowed gum through your digestive system and out of your body.

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The Seven Year Myth

We have all heard that gum can stay in your stomach for seven years, but this myth is untrue. Gum base is not the only thing that we eat that is insoluble. Our bodies cannot digest many things, including some seeds, popcorn kernels, and the fiber in many raw vegetables and fruits. These things move through the digestive system the same way as gum.

While gum is sticky and can make a mess of the carpet or the bottom of your shoe, it does not stick to your stomach or intestinal tract. Most people's stomachs empty within two hours of eating, and this includes your swallowed gum.

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Children and Gum

Children are much smaller than adults, and if they swallow large amounts of gum, there is a chance that something will happen, like intestinal obstruction. Although the risk is minimal, kids should not chew gum until they understand that they are not supposed to swallow it.

Most children understand that gum is different than other candy by the time they're 5 years old.

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Symptoms of Intestinal Obstruction

Children who swallow large amounts of gum in a short period of time may be at higher risk of intestinal obstruction. Signs of intestinal obstruction include abdominal pain that comes and goes, constipation, vomiting, loss of appetite, abdominal swelling, and being unable to pass gas or have a bowel movement.

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Intestinal Obstruction Treatment

Although abdominal obstruction from swallowing chewing gum is extremely rare, if it happens, it's a serious medical issue. People with intestinal obstruction are hospitalized and treated with IV fluids and bowel rest.

These patients may receive medication to relieve vomiting and nausea and require surgical treatment if the bowels are completely blocked.

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Nicotine Gums

Nicotine gum is not like regular gum. Manufacturers warn not to swallow it, and because it contains nicotine, it can be extremely dangerous for children.

Children, pets, and adults who chew too much nicotine gum are at risk for nicotine poisoning. Signs vary depending on how much was taken. Early symptoms include nausea, vomiting, sweating, abdominal pain, rapid heart rate, and seizures. Late-stage symptoms include low blood pressure, difficulty breathing, and coma.

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Complications Are Rare

There is not a lot of research about the dangers of swallowing gum. Generally, it's best not to do it too often, but complications in the existing research are rare. One uncommon case reported in 2020 was of a woman who had an intestinal blockage after swallowing about 25 pieces of gum every day for three years. Doctors easily removed the gum from her colon, but pieces in other parts of her GI tract were left in place.

As for complications in children, research is also limited, with only three incidents of obstructions from chewing gum reviewed.

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Benefits of Chewing Gum

When used as intended, chewing gum — particularly sugar-free varieties — have many benefits. Chewing sugar-free gum stimulates saliva, which helps to neutralize plaque and prevent cavities.

Although people use nicotine gum for much different purposes, when combined with other methods, it can be effective at helping people quit smoking.

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Other Risks of Chewing Gum

Chewing gum has a few small risks, even if you do not swallow it. Too much gum chewing can be hard on dental work, like crowns and fillings, and gum with sugar can cause cavities.

Sugar-free gums are better in this respect, but because they use artificial sweeteners, they can cause stomach upset and diarrhea.

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.