What Happens If You Swallow Gum?

If you swallow a stick of gum here and there, it isn't a problem

Most of the time, swallowing your chewing gum by accident won't lead to any significant health consequences. The undigested gum will simply pass a day or two later in a bowel movement.

However, it you swallow gum regularly, there is a chance that it could lead to complications such as bowel obstruction. Many cases of swallowed gum involve children, but there are rare instances of digestive tract blockage in adults who swallow gum, too.

This article discusses why chewing gum can't be digested and what happens when you or your child swallow it. It briefly explores some of the possible health benefits of chewing (but not swallowing) gum.

Assorted types of chewing gum
Maximilian Stock Ltd. / Getty Images

Why Gum Is Indigestible

Originally, chewing gum was made of chicle, a latex sap from the sapodilla tree. Today's products rely on a gum base that may contain resins, fillers, emulsifiers, and waxes, among other things. Flavors and coloring are added to the mix.

The digestive system doesn't break down the gum core products, so any gum that you swallow will be excreted in your feces once it has traveled through your stomach and intestines, along with the other food and drink you ingest.

What Happens When You Swallow Gum

The gastrointestinal (GI) system consists of everything from the lips to the anus. Typically, food breaks down as it goes through the GI tract. The esophagus doesn't really absorb anything as food (or gum) passes through this tube that connects your throat to the stomach.

Any swallowed gum will pass through the stomach and mix in with chyme, the mix produced by digestion that then travels to the small intestines. There, the solid matter continues to break down with the help of other organs, such as the liver and pancreas, as well as bacteria in the intestines.

Different nutrients are absorbed through the small intestines, with water making it all easier to move through the system. After passing through the large intestines, the mix is passed from the colon into the rectum and then through the anus.

Since swallowed gum isn't digested, it will be the same consistency as it was when it accidentally went into the esophagus. That's why, in rare cases, it may lead to a bowel obstruction.

Symptoms of a bowel obstruction include:

Treatment for a bowel obstruction will depend on its severity. In some cases, a stool softener may work to help the obstruction pass. In the most serious cases, surgery is necessary.

Swallowed Gum and Airway Obstruction

Swallowed gum can become stuck in the throat too. It may become lodged in the esophagus, but a more life-threatening concern is if gum gets stuck in the trachea and blocks the airway passage to the lungs. This is more common in toddlers and children, but may occur in adolescents and adults too. Call 911 immediately for a foreign body airway obstruction.

Chewing Gum and Health Benefits

If you've swallowed gum, it should pass through your system in less than a week. Apart from the risk of obstruction, the act of gum chewing leads to swallowing more saliva and more air, which may affect gas and bloating.

However, chewing gum also offers possible benefits in health care, so long as people don't swallow it. A number of studies find it may have a role in promoting healing after bowel surgery.

Chewing gum may help to speed up gut transit time during a capsule endoscopy, a procedure that relies on a tiny camera in a capsule that records images of your digestive tract as it passes through. A 2021 study of 205 people found that those who chewed gum had faster transit times, which may prove a diagnostic benefit and lead to fewer complications.

As a diagnostic tool, chewing gum that's designed to change colors is used to evaluate people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) when they're eating, to ensure both proper oxygen levels and nutrition.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What should I do if I swallowed my gum?

    There's nothing to do. You just need to let it pass naturally.

  • What happens if you swallow gum while pregnant?

    Although it is not recommended to swallow gum, mistakenly swallowing a piece of gum should not harm you or your baby. The gum will travel through your digestive system and get excreted in your stool just as it would if you were not pregnant.

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8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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