As a kid, learning to blow gum bubbles was a part of growing up. You’d try to force bubbles the size of your face, only to have a friend pop it onto your nose. Over the years, you probably relied on gum when you were going on a first date, felt nervous, or had a business meeting after one too many cups of coffee.
What is gum, anyway? It’s kind of odd that you can chew on something for so long without it breaking down, and obviously gum isn’t exactly considered a “health” food — it’s not really considered a food item at all.
Considering nearly 57 percent of the US population chew gum, it’s easy to assume there’s no harm in it. The following seven reasons will make you rethink the next piece of gum you pop into your mouth — here’s why you should quit chewing gum.
Contains artificial sweeteners
If you opt for sugar-free gum to “save” your teeth, know that artificial sweeteners take the place of sugar. The most common is aspartame, and this harmful ingredient has been linked to cancers, brain tumors, weight gain and birth defects. Even if you don’t swallow a piece of gum, the ingredients can still enter your body.
As you chew gum, aspartame and other potentially harmful artificial sweeteners are absorbed by the buccal mucosa of the mouth, tongue and gums. The same is true regarding sucralose, a chemically manipulated version of sugar. You should also be aware of saccharin and acesulfame potassium based on their connection to various conditions, including cancer and nerve dysfunction.
Encourages you to eat more junk food
Many individuals chew gum in order to reduce their appetite. However, a study found that chewing gum made participants eat more junk food, such as cookies, chips and candy instead of healthier alternatives. Researchers also found that when chewing mint-flavored gum, participants chose to eat less fruits and vegetables.
In a second experiment, participants were instructed to chew gum before each meal while keeping a food diary. Although individuals did eat fewer meals, they chose foods that were high in calories and low in nutrients. So although individuals ate less, they consumed unhealthy foods.
Can cause gastrointestinal issues
Chewing gum on a regular basis can result in gastrointestinal issues, such as abdominal pain and bloating. Chewing gum can cause you to swallow more air than normal, leading to gas and bloating. The artificial sweeteners in gum are also not very well digested, leading to stomach discomfort.
While focusing on digestion, it’s important to remember that your mouth is the beginning of the digestive process. As you chew, your brain signals your digestive tract and stomach to produce enzymes. When chewing gum, however, enzymes are being produced, but no food follows, exhausting your digestive system.
Loaded with synthetic ingredients
From artificial colors to flavors, sweeteners are not the only ingredients to be worried about. BHT, for instance, is a preservative that has been banned in countries outside of the United States. Often used in chewing gum, it has been linked to hyperactivity, liver damage and organ toxicity.
When you look at a pack of gum, one of the main ingredients is gum base. The truth is, this blend of ingredients is kind of a mystery. Believed to consist of resins, fillers and elastomers, most manufacturers do not disclose this information. Concerns have increased regarding vinyl acetate, a possible carcinogen, that is used by some manufacturers within their mystery gum base recipe.
Can release mercury into your body
Amalgam dental fillings, more commonly known as silver fillings, are composed of tin, silver and mercury. It’s believed that when you chew gum, you can essentially release mercury from your fillings into your body. When ingested in large enough amounts, mercury can lead to kidney, liver and nerve damage.
Within one study, published in the Journal of Dental Research, it was found that subjects who chewed gum experienced significantly higher levels of mercury in their blood and urine. A similar German study found the same results, reporting that chewing gum is an important influence on urinary mercury levels in people who have amalgam fillings.
Erodes dental enamel
Many dentists recommend sugar-free gum to their patients following a meal, and although it has been shown to reduce the risk of cavities, dental enamel is a concern. When chewing gum, even if it’s sugar free, you expose yourself to sugar alcohols, acidic flavorings and preservatives.
While chewing, these ingredients can increase the acidity of your mouth, which threatens your enamel. Acting as a hard protective coating on your teeth, once you destroy your enamel, it’s gone for good. A study published in the British Dental Journal found that additives in sugar-free gum, most commonly found in fruit-flavored varieties, caused dental erosion.
Places excess strain on your jaw
When you think about chewing gum, there’s not exactly a recommended dose or intake because it’s not something that you technically ingest. If you’re someone that always has gum on you, chewing one piece after another, you may be placing continuous stress on your jaw, as well as your surrounding joints and muscles.
If ignored, this stress can potentially cause a condition known as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ, TMD). In some cases, this leads to immense facial pain and discomfort throughout the back of the neck. Affecting one in five people, it is often caused by excessive chewing or teeth grinding.
Within one study, published in the Journal of Pediatric Neurology, the connection between migraine headaches and chewing gum was analyzed. A total of 30 adolescents who were excessive gum chewers and sufferers of migraines were asked to discontinue chewing for a month.
Two-thirds of participants reported their symptoms subsided within days. It’s believed that constant chewing places strain on the temporomandibular joints, likely triggering migraine headaches for those who are susceptible.
Krista Hillis is passionate about nutrition, mental health, and sustainable practices. She has her Bachelors in Psychology and Neuroscience and is still active in her research. Studying both the body and mind, she focuses on natural health and balance. Krista enjoys writing based on her ability to inspire others and increase overall awareness.