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Gum Chewing in Kids Under-Recognized Cause of Headaches

Treating some headaches in children may be a simple matter of getting them to quit chewing gum.

A new study suggests that excessive gum chewing may be an important but under-recognized trigger for headaches in older children.

The researchers, led by Nathan Watemberg, MD, Child Neurology Unit and Child Development Center, Meir Medical Center, Tel Aviv University, Israel, believe that excessive gum chewing causes headache not through the ingestion of aspartame from the gum, as has been previously suggested, but by putting undue exertion on the temporomandibular joint (TMJ).

"We feel that the mechanical burden is the culprit, as the amount of aspartame in the gum is small and, as this substance is present in sodas and other diet products, one would expect aspartame to be well associated with headaches, which is not the case," Dr. Watemberg told Medscape Medical News.

He advises that doctors make a point of enquiring about the gum chewing habits of adolescents reporting daily or recurrent headaches. "If the neurological examination is normal and the habit is present, they should first of all discontinue it to see if headaches improve, before embarking on expensive diagnostic procedures, or prescribing medications for the headache," Dr. Watemberg notes.

Their findings are published in the January issue of Pediatric Neurology.

Pediatr Neurol. 2013;50:69-72. Abstract

Pauline Anderson

January 17, 2014