Colorful gumballs

Is it dangerous to swallow gum?

Whether it’s chewing gum or bubblegum, nicotine gum or Big League Chew, Americans love their gum.

While its various impacts on dental health — especially the non-sugar-free ones — are pretty well known, there are still a couple of health questions that never seem to go away.

Specifically, we’re talking about two of them: 1) Is swallowing gum bad for you? 2) Does gum stay in your stomach for seven years?

Chew on this

Since these two questions dovetail together nicely — one would generally consider something hanging out in your GI tract for seven years to be “bad for you” — we’ll go ahead and cover them both here.

Chewing gum dates back to ancient times, where the Greeks chewed on a substance based on the resin of the mastic tree, and Native Americans were fond of a spruce tree resin concoction. Over time, gum evolved, flavor was added and made to last longer.

Modern chewing gum starts with a base made from either latex resin from the chicle (thus the old Chiclets brand gum) and jelutong trees, or from a synthetic material. The rest of it is sweeteners, flavorings and softeners.

Of these four components, only the base is indigestible, the rest of it is easily processed by our bodies. So, when you swallow gum it takes the same route and ends up in the same place any other indigestible material does when you eat it — the toilet.

So, unless you’re allergic to latex and you’re chewing on a piece of gum with a natural rubber base — in which case you’re probably already going into anaphylaxis just from chewing it — swallowing gum isn’t harmful in small quantities, and it certainly doesn’t stay in your stomach for 7 years.

Women blowing bubbles with chewing gum
Photo by jacoblund/Envato
Sticky situation

You will note, however, that I did say “small quantities” up there. Swallowing a piece once in a while because there’s no trashcan nearby and you don’t want to litter? Sure, it shouldn’t hurt you.

But swallowing five to seven pieces of gum a day? Not so good. In fact, it can lead to constipation and blockage issues, as presented in a rather notable — and rather gross — case study where a 4-1/2 year old boy did just that.

After suffering from prolonged constipation, doctors discovered — you might want to stop reading if you’re eating — “a ‘taffy-like’ trail of fecal material” stopping up the boy’s works. The mass was manually removed and discovered to be comprised primarily of chewing gum. (There are a few other examples of similar cases at that link, if you’re up for reading them.)

So the moral of the story here is that while swallowing gum in and of itself it not harmful, swallowing a pack of it a day for a prolonged period of time may result in your doctor turning you into the worst Play Doh Fun Factory ever. Like all else in the world, moderation is the key.

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