Kids love to chew gum but the smacking, popping and bubble blowing has driven many a parent and teacher to their breaking point. There’s another side to gum chewing that may be more than just annoying. According to a new study, excessive gum chewing may be giving kids migraines.
Dr. Nathan Watemberg, with Tele Aviv University-affiliated Meir Medical Center, noticed that many patients reporting headaches were excessive gum chewers. After completing his study, Watemberg believes that some migraine patients can be cured of their headaches without further testing or medications simply by eliminating their gum chewing.
"Out of our 30 patients, 26 reported significant improvement, and 19 had complete headache resolution," said Watemberg. "Twenty of the improved patients later agreed to go back to chewing gum, and all of them reported an immediate relapse of symptoms."
The study involved 30 patients, 6 to 19 years old, who had chronic migraine or tension headaches and chewed gum daily. He asked that the participants stop chewing gum for one month. They had chewed gum for at least an hour, some up to more than six hours, per day. After a month without gum, 19 of the 30 patients reported that their headaches went away entirely and seven reported a decrease in the frequency and intensity of headaches. To test the results, 26 of them agreed to resume gum chewing for two weeks. All of them reported a return of their symptoms within days.
Two previous studies linked gum chewing to headaches, but offered different explanations. One study suggested that gum chewing causes stress to the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), the place where the jaw meets the skull. The other study blamed aspartame, the artificial sweetener used in most popular chewing gums. TMJ dysfunction has been shown to cause headaches, while the evidence is mixed on aspartame.
Watemberg supports the TMJ explanation. People who chew gum excessively put a significant burden on the TMJ, which is already the most constantly used joint on the body, he says.
"Every doctor knows that overuse of the TMJ will cause headaches," said Watemberg. "I believe this is what's happening when children and teenagers chew gum excessively."
Watemberg says his findings can be put to use immediately. By advising teenagers with chronic headaches to simply stop chewing gum, doctors can provide many of them with quick and effective treatment, without the need for expensive diagnostic tests or medications.
If your child suffers from nagging headaches and is a daily gum chewer, you might want to conduct your own study. Explain that the gum chewing may be contributing to his or her headaches and ask them to quit for a month. If the headaches stop- you’ve probably found the problem. If they continue, have your pediatrician or family doctor check your child for other causes.
Dr. Watemberg’s findings were published in the online journal, Pediatric Neurology.