Don’t Swallow Your Gum

Chewing gum is a practice particularly frowned upon in most formal settings, from school to the workplace, and is often mocked. But the real problem with chewing gum lies in what could happen if you swallow enough of it – and it’s not pretty.

There’s a myth out there that gum stays in your stomach or intestines for an extended period of time, though Alaska-based family medicine physician Dr. John Cullen says that’s not the case. You just really don’t digest it, he says; it will come out naturally and virtually intact through bowel movements. He’s never actually seen gum in someone’s body like this in his practice – and he’s a family physician who performs frequent colonoscopies and endoscopies, tests that allow doctors to examine what’s inside various parts of the body, where this sticky situation would occur.

But in small kids who swallow gum on a regular basis, there have been instances where gum amalgamates into something called a bezoar – in this case, a mass of gum that can get stuck in the intestines and rectum. To get the gum out, doctors would have to go in and remove it manually.

“The only way that chewing gum could stay for seven years [as the myth goes] is if there was a vast amount of it, and even then symptoms such as constipation would mean it’s probably discovered soon.

Pediatrics published reports of some gum-swallowing cases in 1998.

“Two patients, each toddlers, received gum on a daily basis and their means of discarding the gum (swallowing) was well known to the families and was a source of levity,” the study authors wrote at the time. “Each child presented with intractable, medically refractory constipation that required manual stool removal. Interestingly, the disimpaction procedure is characteristically a ‘taffy-pull.'”

None of this is to say that swallowing a piece of gum once or twice is a huge problem, but it may not be best to make it a habit.

“The problems that people get into with gum are exceedingly rare but it is important especially for small kids to spit the gum out, to understand that they have to do that,” Cullen says.



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