Almost everyone has swallowed a piece of gum, but few kids have needed a doctor because of it. You might have heard that swallowed gum stays in your stomach for 7 years. That’s not true. But what does happen to the gum when you accidentally swallow it?
Though your stomach can’t break down a piece of gum the same way it breaks down other food, your digestive system can move it along through normal intestinal activity. In other words, it comes out the other end when you have a bowel movement.
Swallowing a large mass of gum, or many small pieces of gum over a short period of time, can block the digestive tract in rare cases. Blockage is most likely when gum is swallowed along with foreign objects, like coins, or when swallowed with nondigestible materials like sunflower seeds.
Little kids are most likely to be affected because they might not understand that gum is chewed, not swallowed.
But apart from these strange scenarios, swallowing an occasional piece of gum is harmless.
What exactly happens to the gum?
Chewing gum is made of either natural or synthetic materials (gum resin), preservatives, flavorings and sweeteners. The body can absorb sweeteners, such as sugar, and they can add up to a lot of calories if you chew a lot of sugary gum.
But the human digestive tract can’t digest the gum resin. It’s moved through the digestive tract by the normal pushing actions of the gut. The gum’s journey ends during a trip to the bathroom.
Kids shouldn’t chew gum until they fully understand the importance of not swallowing it. By age 5, most children will understand that gum is different than candy and is not to be swallowed.
Too much of anything can be a problem. Chewing gum is hard on dental work and most gums that are not sugar free can cause cavities. Sugar-free gum sweetened with sorbitol also can be a problem because it can cause diarrhea. Cinnamon-flavored gums of any kind may irritate the mouth lining.
A good rule would be to stick with sugar-free gum and don’t have more than one or two pieces a day. And when you’re done with it, don’t swallow it. Throw it away instead!