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Gum Chewing May Lead to Headache

Gum-chewing children and teens who experience headaches may be able to find relief simply by stopping their gum chewing habit, according to a study in Pediatric Neurology.

Nathan Watemberg, MD, from Meir Medical Centre, which is affiliated with Tel Aviv University, noticed that many patients who reported headaches were daily gum chewers. Wanting to examine this connection, he conducted a study with 30 patients between 6 and 19 years old who had chronic migraine or tension headaches and chewed gum daily for 1 to 6 hours.

After one month of refraining from gum chewing, 19 patients reported that their headaches had disappeared entirely, and 7 reported a decrease in their headache frequency and intensity. When 26 participants resumed gum chewing for 2 weeks, all of the subjects reported that their headaches quickly returned.

Few studies have explored gum chewing and headaches, and two of those studies reported different explanations for the link: 1) temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction and 2) the artificial sweetener aspartame. Dr. Watemberg leans towards the first explanation.

“Every doctor knows that overuse of the TMJ will cause headaches,” Dr. Watemberg said. “I believe this is what’s happening when children and teenagers chew gum excessively.”

Dr. Watemberg suggests health care professionals begin advising patients seeking relief from chronic headache to stop chewing gum, which may provide an effective treatment all on its own.

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