Teachers and parents often tell children off for chewing gum, but while kids may roll their eyes at what might seem like an old-fashioned reaction, it turns out their elders are right. According to one Tel Aviv University study, chewing gum leads to headaches.
The study was carried out by Doctor Nathan Watemberg, who noticed that many patients who reported headaches were frequent gum chewers. His findings, published in Pediatric Neurology, could help treat countless cases of migraine and tension headaches in adolescents without the need for additional testing or medication.
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“Out of our 30 patients, 26 reported significant improvement, and 19 had complete headache resolution,” said Dr. Watemberg. “Twenty of the improved patients later agreed to go back to chewing gum, and all of them reported an immediate relapse of symptoms.”
There hasn’t been much research into the correlation between chewing gum and headaches in teens. Other studies have shown other possible causes, such as lack of sleep, skipping meals, playing video games and smoking. As children mature, headaches become more frequent, peaking during adolescence.
Get off the chew-chew train
At the Tel Aviv University-affiliated Meir Medical Center, Dr. Watemberg advised some patients to stop chewing gum. He later understood that when they stopped chewing gum, their headaches also significantly decreased. The problem was most common in teenage girls, who are more avid chewers.
Watemberg decided to look at the phenomenon more closely and asked 30 of his patients who chewed gum for at least one hour a day (some up to six hours a day), and also complained about headaches, to stop completely. After one month, 26 of the patients, aged six to 19, reported a reduction in headaches and 19 of them reported that they were completely gone. Moreover, 26 of the patients agreed to go back to chewing, and all reported a regression to old symptoms.
An easy fix
In previous studies, there were two possible explanations for the correlation between chewing gum and headaches. The first put the blame on the artificial sweetener aspartame, which is common in most chewing gums. However, Watemberg believes that if that were the cause, then people who are heavy diet soft drink drinkers would experience similar symptoms.
The other explanation is that gum chewing causes stress to the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ, the place where the jaw meets the skull. “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 believes that his findings may prove to be a simple and easy treatment for many young people suffering from headaches. By simply advising them to stop chewing gum, it is possible that they will stop having headaches, without the need of expensive diagnosis and treatment.
Photo: Beautiful Young Student Girl by Bigstock