Although it’s not recommended, if you accidently swallow a piece of gum you’re chewing, you have little to worry about. Your body can’t digest gum, but a piece of swallowed gum will usually pass through your digestive system — basically intact — and come out in your stool about 40 hours later, just like almost everything else you eat.
If you swallow large quantities of gum in a short period of time, however, it could potentially cause a block in your intestines.
If you swallow a piece of gum, there’s probably no reason to see a doctor. It should pass normally through your digestive tract.
If you swallow a large amount of gum or if you swallow gum with other indigestible objects, that might cause a blockage. This could require surgery to remove it from your digestive tract.
The symptoms of a blockage typically include abdominal pain and constipation, sometimes accompanied by vomiting. If you think you have an intestinal blockage, see your doctor.
Prior to World War II, gum was made with chicle — the sap from the Central American sapodilla tree — with added flavorings.
The majority of gum today is made of gum base. This is a combination of polymers, plasticizers, and resins. It’s usually mixed with food-grade softeners, preservatives, sweeteners, colors, and flavorings. Often, gum has a powdered or hard polyol coating.
The exact ingredients and measurements of ingredients in gum bases are the intellectual property “trade secrets” of gum manufacturers.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration defines chewing gum as a “food of minimal nutritional value.” This means it can’t be sold in competition with school breakfast and lunch programs. Other foods in this category include soda and some candies.
This definition of gum is somewhat controversial because many of the ingredients in gum bases are inedible products used in nonfood items such as caulking, white glue, and plastic bags.
It’s generally safe to chew gum although many believe the sugar or sugar substitutes in gum aren’t healthy for children.
Aside from this, you shouldn’t allow children to chew gum until they can fully understand that they shouldn’t swallow it after chewing. Although a swallowed piece of gum should pass through a child just as it would an adult, young children might swallow large quantities of gum and even objects that can get stuck to the gum in their digestive tract.