Gum Chewing Linked to Migraines in Teenagers

by | Mar 26, 2014 | General Dentistry

Hi everyone!

beautiful young student girlSit at any classroom desk at any high school across the country and look under the desk for deposits of used, chewed gum.  I know it’s disgusting.  Gum chewing became synonymous with high school aged kids long age and well, things haven’t really changed all that much!  Teenagers still smack, blow and pop gum like their predecessors.  But a recent study now reveals that along with giving parents and teachers headaches, gum-popping teenagers everywhere may be giving themselves one as well.

Published in Pediatric Neurology, Dr. Nathan Watemberg’s study of adolescent gum chewing could help treat adolescent migraines and tension headaches without medication or investigative testing.  Out of the thirty participants, 26 reported feeling significant improvement and 19 had completely resolved their headache issues.

Headaches are Common in Childhood

It seems headaches are common in childhood, and pick up frequency as a child enters adolescence.  It’s particularly high in adolescent girls.  Tension headaches or migraines are often triggered by fatigue, excessive computer use or video game playing, lack of sleep, heat, stress, noise, smoking, missed mealtimes and menstruation.  Initial medical research into the association between headaches and gum chewing were limited; until now.

At the Meir Medical Center’s Child Neurology Unit and Child Development Center, Dr. Watemberg’s patient profiles often listed gum chewing as a daily habit, especially among females.  Intrigued, Dr. Watemberg, suggested that patients forego gum chewing as a test to see if their headaches got better.  Returning patients often reported immediate relief.

To gather more evidence, Dr. Watemberg enlisted the help of 30 subjects, ages six to 19, for his research.  All subjects chewed gum daily anywhere from one hour to six hours every day.  First he requested that all participants quit chewing gum for one month.  After the month had passed 19 of the 30 subjects reported that their headaches went away, while seven reported a reduction in the intensity and frequency of headaches.  To further test these initial results, Dr. Watemberg had 26 subjects resume their daily gum chewing for two weeks. All subjects reported a return of headache pain.

Previous research linked gum chewing to headaches but to two different causes: Temporomandibular (TMJ) dysfunction and aspartame.  TMJ disorders have been directly shown to cause headaches, while the studies involving aspartame revealed mixed results.  It seem logical that if there was a direct link between aspartame and migraines that many more people would report headaches after drinking diet sodas and other artificially sweetened foods.  But since kids tend to chew gum long after the flavor has disappeared, it puts the evidence squarely on the jaw joint.  By all accounts, the jaw joint happens to be the most frequently used joint in the entire body.

Sometimes, studies reveal what we already know to be true.  By simply removing one cause, we can rule out expensive treatments or excessive diagnostic tests.  Asking children to cut back on gum chewing is about as cost-effective as it gets.

If symptoms still persist, it’s always best to check with your dentist.  At Dr. Mark Langberg, DDS , we will listen to you, do a thorough exam, perform any needed diagnostics and spend a fair amount of time one on one with you to talk about your situation and explain all of your options in their entirety before recommending any specific treatment.  I have had advanced training and much experience in this area so if you’re experiencing headaches or jaw joint pain, please give us a call at 248-356-8790.  We can help you get back to your old self as soon as possible.

Until Next Time,

Mark W Langberg, DDS, MAGD
Your Southfield Family Dentist
Tel: (248) 356-8790