How many of us as children swallowed gum, then remembered our mother's stern warning: "Never swallow gum. It will stay in your stomach for seven years."
Other than having a sinking feeling we did something wrong, we turned out just fine. In fact, it turns out that gum, no matter how chewy, is no match for our body's superior digestive system.
Marshfield Clinic Pediatrician Kristin Cutlan, M.D., confirms that gum will not take up space in a stomach, or anyplace else in the body, for seven years.
"This is one of those old wives' tales that has been passed down through the ages," said Dr. Cutlan. While she has not had any specific questions from patients on this topic, she knows from her own experience it's best not to introduce young children to gum chewing. "I don't plan to give gum to my own children until after age five."
Gum is made up of four general ingredients, and the body's digestive system can easily break down the flavorings, sweeteners and softeners. It's the gum base (resin) that sticks around. Made mostly of synthetic chemicals, its job is to resist the digestive juices in your mouth. But once swallowed, gum makes its way through the digestive system after a few days, then leaves the body as a waste product.
In rare cases, as reported in the journal Pediatrics, persistent, daily gum swallowing has negative effects. One 4 1/2-year-old boy, who swallowed five to seven pieces of gum daily, had been living with chronic constipation for two years. After doctors found a "taffy-like trail of fecal material" consisting mostly of gum, the sticky glob was suctioned out of his body.
If this story isn't enough to cure children of gum swallowing, Dr. Cutlan offers this advice: "It's best not to give gum to any child under the age of five. At this young age, they don't really understand that gum is not like regular food and can't be swallowed. When you feel your child is old enough for gum, start out with a small piece. Choose sugar-free to prevent dental decay."