If we look back over a history of munching and grinding, we can see that people have been chewing gum for centuries. In fact, your Juicy Fruit habit can be traced all the way back to the time when the ancient Greeks used to pull pieces of bark from mastic trees so that they could use it to sweeten their breath naturally. Today, that sticky stuff you keep in your purse or pocket is used for a range of other reasons – from attempts to stave off hunger, to ways of banishing nicotine cravings.
Unfortunately, while some people look at gum chewing as a healthy alternative to other solutions for beating cravings – the truth is that gnawing on a wad of gum might be harmful to your body in more ways than you think.
In the most, chewing gum used to be an act that was frowned upon by dentists. After all, the average piece of gum was brimming with sugar, and tended to stay in the mouth for far longer than the typical candies that you could swallow. This meant that gum was a serious factor in tooth decay. However, in the 1950s, new manufacturers introduced the all-mighty sugarless gum, and we started to assume that we could once again go back to gnawing all day long.
It’s time to rethink that assumption.
The Problems with Chewing Gum
Before we get into one of the biggest issues of chewing gum regularly (the pain that it can cause around the jaw and neck), let’s take a look at some of the other common problems that are associated with this sticky habit.
- Gum Might Increase your Junk Food Cravings
A lot of people turn to gum as a way of helping them to overcome constant cravings for fattening or unhealthy foods. Theoretically- if you’re constantly chewing on something your body should be less likely to crave food. While research does show that chewing gum can lower your motivation to eat, and minimise your hunger – gum chewers tend to opt for meals that are less nutritious, and more junky than non-chewers.
Research suggests that people who chew gum are more likely to snack on candy and potato chips than fruit and vegetables. This is probably because the minty flavour that comes in most gum packets will often make fruits and veg taste strange and bitter.
- Gum-Based Gastro Problems
When you chew gum, you automatically swallow a lot of extra air, which can lead to bloating and abdominal pain. What’s more, when you’re chewing gum, you basically tell your brain that it should inform your body to prepare for food. After all – most of the time when we chew something, we plan to swallow it too. The enzymes and acids that are activated when you need to digest food are therefore released into your stomach – but they have nothing to do.
This build-up of substances in your stomach can cause an excessive production of stomach acid, compromise your ability to produce the right amount of digestive fluids when you’re actually eating food, and may also lead to bloating. Some people may also have other adverse systems in their stomach, which leads to things like diarrhoea and cramping.
- Tooth Decay and Damage
If you’re eating a type of gum that contains sugar, you’re basically surrounding your teeth with a corrosive substance that’s bound to quickly lead to plaque and other decay problems. However, just because you might choose to eat sugar-free gum doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re safe. Sugar-free gum still presents serious risks to your teeth because this product often includes preservatives and acidic flavourings that can cause dental erosion.
Essentially, too much gum chewing – no matter how sugar-free you go – can lead to a process that dissolves your teeth over time. If you want a killer smile, then you might need to opt for a less dangerous habit.
Chewing and TMJ
When it comes to joint and muscle pain, chewing gum can present a few pretty serious problems.
Although many people chew gum as a way of relieving stress, excessive chewing can often lead to jaw pain through the development of something called “temporomandibular joint dysfunction”. TMJ isn’t just a temporary ache that you experience in your jaw after you’ve been chewing for too long and your gum’s gone a little stale – it’s a chronic condition that can continue to cause pain even after you ditch the gum habit.
Any time your body overuses a set of particular muscles – this leads to uncomfortable contractions and a range of related discomforts – including toothaches, jaw aches, headaches, and neck pain. The temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, can be found on either side of your head, just in front of your ear.
Most of the time, a disorder with this joint is caused by physical degeneration of the structures around the joint itself, or excessive physical stress. However, in rare conditions, symptoms can be caused by excessive chewing. Common symptoms of TMJ include general discomfort when chewing, inability to fully open your mouth, clicking or popping sounds when you move your jaw, headaches, and more.
Although frequent gum chewing can sometimes lead to the development of a TMJ disorder – it is more likely to exacerbate symptoms that can be associated with the condition. After all, if the cartilage around your joints is already wearing away – placing your jaw under additional pressure is bound to make the experience even more uncomfortable.
Relieving Stress While Causing Pain
Many people consider chewing gum to be an ideal way to reduce stress – especially when they’re in the middle of a challenging diet or they’re overcoming smoking addictions. However, too much chewing can make the jaws of chewers feel sore and tired, while contributing to additional problems such as neck pain.
A study at the UT Southwestern Medical Centre found that constant gum chewing can lead to tired jaws, muscle fatigue, pain, and spasms. This problem, combined with TMJ puts additional strain on the muscles in the neck – which can contribute to common feelings of neck discomfort and pain. Ironically for those who choose to chew gum to remove neck pain, the more stress you put on your jaws when you chew – the more pain you could end up being in.
After all, when you chew something aggressively, you’re using all of the muscles in your neck and jaw to move your teeth. This means that you put extra pressure into grinding the gum between your teeth, and often end up with additional strain over time.
Gum chewing and blowing bubbles might seem like an innocent way to get rid of the pent up tension that you feel after a tough day at work or an argument with your other half, but when you think about the amount of pressure it puts on your jaw, you may realise just how dangerous your habit is.
Gum chewing causes serious stress to the area where the skull and the jaw meet – leading to strain throughout the muscles in your neck and head. What’s more, a lot of people find that they spend more time chewing on one side of the mouth than the other – which can lead to an imbalance in your jaw muscles.
Other Ways to Relieve Stress:
Most experts recommend that if you have to use gum – you should only start chewing just before a meal, when the enzyme stimulation that occurs as a result of your chewing could actually help you digest your food. What’s more, even if you only chew gum rarely, it’s best to make sure that you chew about the same amount on each side of your mouth. After all – just like any other muscle, it’s important to give your jaw an even workout.
If you’re hoping to ditch your gum chewing habit, but you don’t know where to start, then you should begin by thinking why you chew to begin with. For instance, if you’re chewing gum to keep your breath fresh – you could always try carrying a portable toothbrush with you instead. On the other hand, if you like the flavour, you could look for other healthy snacks that you can use to keep your taste buds satisfied.
Perhaps the most common reason to chew gum is because you’re feeling stressed. Fortunately, there’s plenty of great and natural ways that you can fight back against stress and anxiety. Here are just a few solutions that should save you a serious pain in the neck:
- Exercise: Exercise has an anti-depressant effect on the brain by improving your levels of serotonin and decreasing muscle tension. The more time you spend exercising – the better you feel. In other words, if you find yourself dealing with a particularly stressful situation in life, then you might find that committing yourself to an extra dose of exercise per week changes your life for the better.
- Get a Massage: One of the best ways to reduce stress and improve your levels of relaxation is to get a massage. Massages can slow down your heart rate, encourage you to focus on your breathing, and help to move your circulation around your body – which results in less tension throughout your muscles.
- Spending time in Nature: If you’re tackling some pretty significant stress at work or at home – the chances are you won’t be convinced by the idea that you can simply walk out into nature and feel better. However, spending time outdoors has been proven to lower cortisol levels in people who visit “green” spaces. Just five minutes of deep breathing while you’re surrounded by grass and trees can boost your mood.
- Focus on your breathing: Learning to breathe carefully and modify your heart rate can accelerate the physiological and bioenergetic mechanisms of your body. In other words, being mindful about your breathing reminds you to make sure that you’re taking in enough oxygen, and letting out enough air as you breathe. This means that you’re more likely to get the right amount of air in your system for your body to deal with stress.
- Chew on something else: If you really want to chew – there’s nothing that says you absolutely have to chew on gum. Keep some chopped vegetables or dried fruits around you that you can gnaw on through the day, or find some other kind of healthy snack that you can keep in the fridge at work for those times when you’re dealing with a particularly difficult client.
- Do something you enjoy: If you find yourself plagued with bad habits like constant gum chewing, then maybe you should find a new hobby! Look for something that you can do on a regular basis that you enjoy – and helps to promote good health at the same time. For instance, this might mean joining a running or biking team, or getting involved with a new sport. For some people, it may even be as simple as taking the dog for a walk every day.
- Drink plenty of water: As simple as it sounds, water can help to keep your mouth hydrated so that you’re less likely to chew gum in an attempt to keep your mouth moist. Rather than spending the last of your pay check on gum every month, purchase a reliable water bottle that you can refill and keep with you at all times. When you feel the urge to chew – grab a drink instead.
Stop the Chewing Craze
Although you might have started chewing gum for all the right reasons – the best intentions can lead to some serious pain in terms of jaw, neck, and mouth discomfort. Put the chewing habit to one side and use one of the numerous suggestions we’ve given above for relaxation instead. You’ll find that your body thanks you for it!