Can Chewing Gum Cause a Headache in my Child?

Whether your child chews gum for that yummy sweet flavor or your teenager chews it for stress relief or to mask bad morning breath, you probably did not consider this common habit a potential trigger for your precious one's headaches or migraines.

But before you child or adolescent grabs that pack of gum, you may want to suggest a mint or an alternative option for their sweet tooth, especially if they are prone to headaches.

Does Chewing Gum Cause Headaches in Children?

Research suggests that gum-chewing is a potential headache trigger for children and adolescents. Good news is that stopping it may stop the headaches. In one study in Pediatric Neurology, 19 of 30 children—between the ages of six and 19—had resolution of their headaches – mostly chronic migraines – once they stopped chewing gum – which they had identified as a trigger for their chronic headaches. Seven of the 30 children had partial improvement of their chronic headaches.

Why Does Gum Chewing Cause Headaches?

More than likely, gum chewing imposes a burden on the temporomandibular joint or TMJ, causing headaches. The TMJ allows your jaw to move properly so you can chew, swallow, and speak. The muscles and joint capsule that surround the TMJ contain nerves , which are the likely main source of TMJ-related pain.

Other theories of how chewing gum may trigger headaches include:

  • Exposure to the artificial sweetener, aspartame, in chewing-gum
  • Emotional stress

Other Habits That May Affect the TMJ

Other habits, similar to excessive gum-chewing, may provoke TMJ-related symptoms – especially if done for more than three hours daily. These include:

  • Nail Biting
  • Leaning Your Chin On Your Hand
  • Chewing Ice
  • Teeth Grinding
  • Biting on a Pen or Other Object
  • Lip Biting

So if gum chewing is a trigger for your child's headaches, these may be as well.

Other Symptoms of TMJ-related pain

If your child's TMJ is inflamed or the muscles surrounding the TMJ are in spasm from gum chewing, she may also experience these symptoms in addition to a headache:

  • Jaw pain
  • Limited range of motion of the jaw
  • Neck pain or stiffness
  • Clicking sound heard when moving the joint/jaw
  • Difficulty opening your mouth

Guidelines from American Academy of Pediatrics

Just as an aside, if your child does chew gum, please be sure they are of an appropriate age and that they are not swallowing it. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that "gum not be given to children who are too young to understand that they shouldn't swallow it " ("Chewing gum," n.d.) Repeated swallowing of gum may cause diarrhea, abdominal pain, gas, mouth ulcers, and dental and jaw issues.

A Word From Verywell

Keeping a headache diary for your child may be helpful in understanding whether gum is triggering headaches and why your child chews gum. For instance, is your child chewing gum out of boredom? Or hunger? Or stress? If your child is a teenager, she may be able to keep her own diary.

If you suspect chewing gum is playing a role in your child's headaches, you may want to consider encouraging them to discontinue the habit to see if this stops or improves their headaches. Talking with your pediatrician or child's neurologist would also be a good idea if you suspect this trigger.

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