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Does Swallowing Gum Cause Intestinal Problems?

What happens if you swallow gum? Does it cause intestinal problems?
Dave*

Almost everyone has swallowed a piece of gum at some point. But very few people ever have problems because of it.

Chewing gum is made up of the gum itself (called the gum base), preservatives, flavorings, and sweeteners. The human body is unable to digest the gum base. But swallowed gum does not stay in the stomach or cause intestinal problems. That's because our bodies move most materials that can't be digested (like gum) through the digestive system and out of our bodies in a bowel movement.

In rare cases, swallowing a large mass of gum, or many small pieces of gum over a short period of time, can block the digestive tract. Blockages in the digestive system are more likely to happen when gum is swallowed along with other indigestible things (like sunflower seed shells).

Although people cannot digest the gum base, they can digest the things that have been added to chewing gum, such as sweeteners or even medications (think of the nicotine gum used by people trying to quit smoking). The body absorbs these just through the act of chewing. So chewing gum can affect a person's health: When a person chews a lot of sugary gum, the calories can add up.

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: May 2009

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