CHEWING GUM OR CHEWING MOUTHGUARD? TAKE YOUR PICK

By Dev K. Mishra, M.D., President, Sideline Sports Doc, Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University

Key Points:

  • Gum chewing during sports is low risk. Chew if you like to, but there are few if any performance benefits.
  • No gum chewing during sports for kids 5 and younger due to a higher choking risk
  • The chewed mouthguard is the new fad in the NBA, replacing gum for many elite players

Gum chewing seems to be disappearing from the NBA but remains very popular among michael-jordan-bubble-gum-nba-funny-photosyoung athletes in all sports. I remember that when I was a kid we were discouraged from chewing gum during sports because we were told that if it got stuck in your throat you’d probably die and if you swallowed the gum it would stay in your stomach for 7 years. Anyone else old enough to remember those myths?

Benefits of Gum Chewing During Sports

I was amazed to see that there are actually some scholarly scientific articles on the subject of gum chewing benefits but in somewhat obscure publications. Researchers at Tokyo Dental College, in a 2008 study published in the International Journal of Sports Dentistry, found in a small sample size that gum chewing “shortens the body response time” and “may also provide a significantly positive effect on performance in sports.” But there is otherwise scant research to support that claim that gum chewing improves sport performance. Some newer research does show that consuming caffeinated gum right before a competition may help boost your efforts, but that effect is due to the caffeine and not necessarily to the gum.

Mostly, I think, you chew gum because you want to and you like the flavor. Pretty much end of the story as far as benefits.

Risks of Gum Chewing During Sports: Choking

The risk of choking from swallowing gum is not zero, but it’s pretty small. For most adolescents, teenagers, and adults it would be difficult to have the gum completely block the trachea (windpipe, where air flows into and out of the lungs). With a huge wad of gum it would be possible, and could be unblocked with a Heimlich maneuver. There is an issue for children under the age of 5 where the mouth and trachea are smaller, making it potentially easier to cause choking. So for all you parents of the elite under-5 athletes out there J: have your child lay off the gum chewing during sports.

Mouthguards Replacing Gum As Chewing Favorite In The NBA

As a kid growing up outside Chicago I was a Bulls fan and the most famous gum- chewer freethrowon record was MJ. But nowadays the gum chewers in the NBA are much harder to find. I have no idea why, but players such as Stephen Curry seem to prefer the chewed mouthguard instead. The Wall Street Journal published some ground breaking statistics showing that Curry shot .925 at the line while chewing his mouthguard and “only” .895 when it was in his mouth.

If you’re an athlete who just feels the need to chew something, have at it. Or if you prefer, try the NBA thing and chew a mouth guard. We’ll see if that’s a bubble that’s waiting to pop.