6 ways chewing gum is wrecking your health

We pop a piece after a boldly flavored lunch to put the kibosh on that garlic breath. We reach for a piece when we feel a little hungry but aren’t ready to eat a full meal just yet. And we snag another piece when we’re caught in an uncomfortable situation and need that oral fixation to help take the edge off (and distract you from the awkwardness). We’re gum chewers, and it’s not doing our health any favors.

If you chew gum regularly, too, it’s important to know how the habit impacts your body, from your teeth to your stomach and beyond. Here are all the ways chewing gum is hurting you more than it’s helping you.

1. It’s really bad for your teeth.

Unless you opt for sugar-free gum 100 percent of the time, that gum chewing habit is negatively impacting your dental health. The bad bacteria in your mouth digest sugar before it gets to your stomach, and you chew gum over a prolonged period of time, so those windows of time increase the amount of plaque buildup on your teeth and cause tooth decay to occur over time.

2. It could cause jaw problems.

Another common side effect of chewing gum, especially during times of high stress, is called temporomandibular joint dysfunction, or TMJ. It predominantly affects the jaw, jaw joint and surrounding muscles, leading to severe pain any time you try to move your jaw away from its typical closed alignment. It hurts to chew your food, it hurts to laugh… Pretty much everything related to moving your mouth hurts.

3. It can give you a lot of headaches.

That constant compression in your jaw from excessive chewing does more than predispose you to conditions like TMJ — it also increases the number of tension headaches you experience and how frequently they present themselves. So if you’re someone who already deals with a migraine disorder or frequent headaches due to the common stressors and anxiety triggers in your life, you’re better off staying away from chewing gum altogether.

4. It can make your indigestion symptoms worse.

A lot of people chew gum to help relieve feelings of nausea or an upset stomach, but gum can make these unpleasant symptoms worse. When you chew gum, you swallow a bunch of little sips of air over time, filling your stomach with unwanted gas. This process can lead to additional bloating and make your tummy feel even more distended than it did before. Talk about an unhappy digestive system…

5. It can make folks with IBS truly miserable.

For the people out there who think sugarless gum is the way to go because it has fewer calories, be mindful if you have any sensitive stomach issues or digestive problems. The sugar alcohols that serve as artificial sweeteners can act as laxatives, causing things like cramping, digestive distress and even diarrhea. Those with irritable bowel syndrome are best off staying away from all products that contain a significant amount of sugar alcohols — not just chewing gum.

6. Its reputation as a diet aid can backfire.

Many people chew gum to curb unwanted (and unhealthy) snacking cravings and avoid weight gain, but the constant chewing motion can actually trigger the brain to think that your body actually is hungry. That means that you still end up digging in and eating more than you probably would have after chewing away on that gum. What’s more, if you prefer mint gum, that flavor makes you more likely to reach for junk foods afterward rather than healthy options like fresh fruit. Doesn’t sound like a successful dieting plan to us…

This post was originally published on Swirled.com in the Thrive section, which covers valuable career and personal finance content for Millennials.