Volume 55 Issue 6 VOICE OF THE STUDENTS December 10, 2003

  Cover Story



Warning! Chewing Gum Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

by Valgina Cooper

Did you know you could get addicted to gum? Jaws hurt. Teeth hurt because you have been popping gum all day. Millions of people chew gun but could it be an addiction? A person can be addicted to just about anything. People may buy 20 packs of gum a day because chewing gum can calm your nerves.

As a kid I used to chew my tongue when I was nervous or deeply working on something. As I got older and able to go to the store for myself, everyday I would buy a pack of gum. I wasn't allowed to chew gum in school, but I did anyway and my teachers always got on me about it. Also, my mother could not stand to hear me chew. After a while I would always have gum in my mouth (unless I wasn't supposed to) until my teeth started hurting. I think that is why four of my wisdom teeth didn't grow in and I had to get them surgically removed. I learned my lesson: I don't chew gum anymore.

But the taste can get you. Once you pop you can't stop. Gum addiction can happen to you if you don't know how to control yourself. First, you start chewing gum because you like the taste. Then you realize that you're chewing gum when nervous or bored. It can be used to pacify you so it seems like you have something to concentrate on. Therefore the amount of gum chewed within a day increases. After this stage your body comes to a point where it needs gum all the time to feel comfortable.

According to the website Gumbusters North America (gumbusters.com), Americans spend more than $1.3 billion a year on chewing gum. While many people chew gum, few realize that it can become an addiction that can leave you with serious health risks.

Tamika Wilbourn, a 22-year-old college graduate from Brooklyn, says, "Every time I go to the store I have to buy a Big Red. I chew three packs every day. I love the taste, and it's sweet."

Wilbourn started chewing gum excessively when she couldn't find a job after graduation. "I became depressed because I thought that with my qualifications I would find a job immediately," she says, "but I did not. Since I've been chewing gum I have had to make visits to the dentist more than once due to tooth pain."

Larry Flaum, D.D.S., a dentist at DC 37 Family Health Center in Brooklyn, says, "Most people chew nicotine gum to keep from smoking cigarettes. They chew sugarless gum to keep from damaging their teeth and getting cavities. Most likely we chew gum for freshness of breath and for taste pleasure."

But too much chewing gum, he says, causes your jaw muscles to hurt which causes mastication of the muscles (overusing of the jaw muscles). Mastication is the biting and grinding of food in your mouth so it becomes soft enough to swallow.

According to Susan Cukiemik, RD, a medical nutrition therapist from "Ask the Expert" (a website where you can ask any question and an expert will answer it), "Chewing stimulates the salivary glands production of pytalin, a digestive enzyme, which can overwork the pancreas and lead to a deficit of pancreatic enzymes as people get older, resulting in incomplete digestion and consequently a number of illnesses." Further, chewing gum contains paraffin - the same substance used in manicures - which, if swallowed, can accumulate as a mass in the intestine, causing malabsorption of nutrients, according to Cukiemik. The act of chewing also can contribute to temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ).

Although a piece of regular gum contains only a half teaspoon of sugar, it is not uncommon for people to chew sticks all day. "Bathing the teeth and gum line in sugar nourishes bacteria and causes teeth enamel to dissolve," says Cukiemik. "Sugar also is linked to osteoporosis, arthritis, and other degenerative disease/ Sugarless gum might not be any better because many contain artificial sweetness and colors, some of which have been associated with bloating, diarrhea, and headaches.

The 2000 Surgeon General Oral Health Report recommends a thorough oral examination ti detect signs of nutritional deficiencies as well as a number of systematic diseases, including microbial infections, immune disorders, injuries and some cancers.

How do you know you've become addicted to gum chewing? When you feel like you have to chew gum to function through the day - as I learned through my own experience.

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