Teenagers are notorious for chewing a lot of gum. The lip smacking, bubble popping, discarded gum stuck to the sole give teachers and parents a headache.
Now, Dr. Nathan Watemberg of Tel Aviv University-affiliated Meir Medical Center has found that gum-chewing teenagers, and younger children as well, are giving themselves headaches too. His findings, published in Pediatric Neurology, could help treat countless cases of migraine and tension headaches in adolescents without the need for additional testing or medication.
"Out of our 30 patients, 26 reported significant improvement, and 19 had complete headache resolution," said Dr. Watemberg. "Twenty of the improved patients later agreed to go back to chewing gum, and all of them reported an immediate relapse of symptoms."
Right under our noses
Headaches are common in childhood and become more common and frequent during adolescence, particularly among girls. Typical triggers are stress, tiredness, lack of sleep, heat, video games, noise, sunlight, smoking, missed meals, and menstruation. But until now there has been little medical research on the relationship between gum chewing and headaches.
At Meir Medical Center's Child Neurology Unit and Child Development Center and community clinics, Dr. Watemberg noticed that many patients who reported headaches were daily gum chewers. Teenage girl patients were particularly avid chewers - a finding supported by previous dental studies. Dr. Watemberg found that in many cases, when patients stopped chewing gum at his suggestion, they got substantially better.
Taking a more statistical approach, Dr. Watemberg asked 30 patients between six and 19 years old who had chronic migraine or tension headaches and chewed gum daily to quit chewing gum for one month. They had chewed gum for at least an hour up to more than six hours per day. After a month without gum, 19 of the 30 patients reported that their headaches went away entirely and seven reported a decrease in the frequency and intensity of headaches. To test the results, 26 of them agreed to resume gum chewing for two weeks. All of them reported a return of their symptoms within days.