Photo of a girl chewing gum and blowing a bubble
Constantly chewing gum overstresses the jaw, and this can lead to severe headaches teens and younger children

Gum-chewing linked to migraines in kids

31 December, 2013

Natural Health News — Teenagers are big consumers of chewing gum.

It may seem like a harmless habit but new research has found it could be the source of headaches in both teenagers, and younger children as well.

In a small study published in the journal Pediatric Neurology, Dr. Nathan Watemberg of Tel Aviv University-affiliated Meir Medical Center suggests that ditching the gum could help treat countless cases of migraine and tension headaches in adolescents without the need for additional testing or medication.

Right under our noses

Headaches are common in childhood and become more common and frequent during adolescence, particularly among girls. Typical triggers are stress, tiredness, lack of sleep, heat, video games, noise, sunlight, smoking, missed meals and menstruation.

In his own practice Dr. Watemberg noticed that many patients who reported headaches were daily gum chewers. Teenage girl patients were particularly avid chewers – a finding supported by previous dental studies. Dr. Watemberg found that in many cases, when patients stopped chewing gum at his suggestion, they got substantially better.

Taking a more statistical approach, Dr. Watemberg asked 30 patients between six and 19 years old who had chronic migraine or tension headaches and chewed gum daily to quit chewing gum for one month.

They had chewed gum for at least an hour 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 7 reported a decrease in the frequency and intensity of headaches.That means that 86% of those he tested found relief by simply giving up the gum.

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.

Other studies have linked gum chewing to headaches suggesting that either stress to the temporomandibular joint (or TMJ, the place where the jaw meets the skull) or aspartame, the artificial sweetener used in many popular chewing gums, could be the culprit.

Gumming up the works

Dr. Watemberg favours the TMJ explanation. People chew gum well after the taste is gone, putting a significant burden on the TMJ, which is already the most used joint in the body, he says.

“Every doctor knows that overuse of the TMJ will cause headaches,” said Dr. Watemberg. “I believe this is what’s happening when children and teenagers chew gum excessively.”

Of course, there is no reason why the cause should be an either/or proposition. Individuals sensitive to aspartame, or other sweeteners like sucralose, may find that small regular doses, such as contained in chewing gums, can trigger a reaction. In addition, chewing gum contains a whole range of other toxic substances that are worrisome.

Dr. 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.