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Swallowing Gum

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on September 01, 2008

Q: My 7-year-old son likes to swallow his bubblegum. I’ve heard thatit will stay in his stomach forever. True?

A: This old wives’ tale is very popular on the playground, but it’sdefinitely FALSE.

"It is true that most of the components of bubblegum are not found innature," says Robynne Chutkan, MD, a gastroenterologist and assistant professorof medicine at Georgetown University. "And as such we don’t have the enzymes tobreak them down. But eventually gum does get through the intestine and into thecolon, where it is mixed with stool and then excreted."

How long is "eventually?" According to Chutkan, gum -- like kernels of corn-- may come out one day, two days, or even three days after being swallowed,but the time lapse is fairly quick: "It’s always within days, not weeks andcertainly not years."

Chewing gum has greater dangers: It can cause a young child to choke; thesugar can promote tooth decay; and no one knows exactly how the chemicals insuch processed foods affect the body in the long term. "In general, the lessexposure you have to artificial ingredients, the better," Chutkan says. "Ourbodies just weren’t made to digest them."