If you chew gum, you’ve been there: you need to throw away your gum, but you can’t find a trash can or a piece of paper. You could put it on the bottom of a table, but you wouldn’t do that on purpose.
So, you take it by mouth.
But what now?! People say that gum can stay in your stomach for up to seven years without being eaten. Beth Czerwony, RD, a registered dietitian, says this isn’t true and explains what really happens when a piece of gum gets into your body.
Does it hurt to chew gum?
If you chew gum once in a while, it probably won’t hurt you. But you shouldn’t make it a habit to swallow your gum because it could hurt you.
Resin from trees was once used to make gum. Now, though, chewing gum is mostly made of something called gum base, which is mostly made of chemicals and not real food. Gum base has no nutritional value and is not digestible, which means that your body can’t break it down the way it does with other foods.
“You can’t digest gum base, so it stays in your guts the whole time and doesn’t break down,” says Czerwony.
How long does gum stay in your stomach?
No. Czerwony says that if you swallowed something that stayed in your body for seven years, you must have been sick in some other way. So don’t be afraid: Gum doesn’t stay in your stomach for seven years or even for seven days.
“If you swallow a piece of gum, it will come out in your stool about 40 hours later,” says Czerwony. “It comes out whole because it can’t be broken down.”
That sounds scary, but it’s not that rare to eat something your body can’t break down. Raw seeds, corn kernels, and the skin of bell peppers are just a few common foods that usually don’t get broken down much in your body.
So, if you’ve only swallowed one piece of gum, you don’t even need to watch your poop to see if the gum comes out. Just trust that what you put in will come out in the end.
When you need to see a doctor
Probably, it won’t hurt you to swallow one piece of gum, but after that, be careful. Czerwony says that if you swallow a lot of gum in a short amount of time, like one piece a day for a week or a “mega-wad” of four pieces at once, you could hurt your digestive system.
“If you do this every day or more than once a day, it could block your intestines,” she warns. “After that, nothing you eat will be able to get through, which causes a backup that hurts and makes you feel pressure.”
Imagine a clogged pipe in your house: If something gets stuck in a pipe, it slows everything down. Because nothing else can get past the blockage, the pressure inside the pipe goes up. And if the clog isn’t fixed, the pipes could crack or even break.
“A clog won’t go away on its own,” Czerwony says. “If it isn’t treated, it can cause the gastrointestinal tract to break.”
Seek medical help right away if you’ve swallowed a lot of gum and are starting to have symptoms of an intestinal blockage, such as:
- Abdominal pain.
- A feeling of being overly full or swollen.
- Painful cramps.
What should you do if your child swallows gum?
Kids tend to swallow weird things they shouldn’t (like marbles, small action figures, etc.), but you don’t have to worry too much about this. Just like adults, kids will poop out gum they swallowed in a few hours.
Again, though, if your child has swallowed more than one piece of gum, keep a close eye out for any signs of stomach pain.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that children ages 5 and up can have a piece of gum once in a while. Before you give your child gum, make sure they know that it’s not something they should swallow.
You should spit it out.
The best way to make sure gum doesn’t get stuck in your intestines is to not swallow it at all. If you have to spit out gum, do it as close as possible to a napkin or trash can. Czerwony says, “It’s just not food.”