Chewing Gum Addiction is Not a Joke
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Chewing Gum Addiction is Not a Joke


chewing gum addiction is not a joke

This post was originally published on March 12, 2015.

My roommate sophomore year of college was a bit of a kook, and like many kooks she dreamed of being a psychiatrist. Given her ineptitude for math and science, her trek through the requisite premed courses drove her mad. She didn’t drink alcohol—although that might have saved her ass at the time—but she did drink gallons and gallons of Diet Mountain Dew, buying three 24-packs at a time from Costco, and she’d chew packs and packs of sugarless gum between the Diet Dew.

Part of her gum-chewing problem had to do with some sort oral fixation. She was psychotic about not gaining weight, and she rolled up and down campus rail-thin on a pink beach cruiser (she actually could have used a few pounds on her bones). Her “dinners” consisted of rice crackers with a spread of sugarless strawberry jam on their surface.

Now that I think of it, I really should have switched roommates.

When midterms were approaching, her desk was smothered with textbooks, empty Diet Dew cans, and shiny aluminum gum wrappers. She liked the long, flat kind of gum–a la Wrigley’s Extra or Doublemint. I really didn’t think it was anything to worry about—I was certainly more worried about her Diet Dew habit, knowing whatever chemicals they put in that shit could potentially cause cancer.

Then, one morning, she woke up screaming.

Well, it wasn’t really screaming, more like pained moans, because she couldn’t move her jaw, sort of like a cat in heat or a cat about to shred its nemesis into minced meat. I went to her room.

“Ah cahn muhve ay ahw,” she said, attempting “I can’t move my jaw.” Tears trickled down her face, and it took everything in me not to laugh. It’s not that I didn’t care about her, it’s that she did it to herself and she chose to starve herself with rice cakes and sugarless gum.

“Ah hhve tuh daucter,” she tried to say “I have to see a doctor.”

I gave in and drove her to the student health center, dropping her off because I had to get to present a project for my photography class. What was the doctor going to do anyway? Tell her to stop chewing gum, no doubt. I did wonder if her mandible would snap back. What if it didn’t? What if it stuck like that?

When she finally returned that evening, she told me what only an idiot wouldn’t have deduced. “Tuh mush guhm,” she muttered. It took her at least a week or more before she fully recovered, and for three days she could barely speak or eat. I did feel bad, but still, the whole thing was completely ludicrous. First of all, why would she chew so much gum in the first place, and why couldn’t she just knock it off? (This was before I became an alcoholic, an Aderall fiend and a cigarette junkie.)

While addiction to chewing gum is a real thing, there’s very little medical or scientific data on the subject, aside from personal stories from bloggers and a Facebook page for Gum Chewing Anonymous (GCA) that boasts a whopping 35 “likes” with the tagline “We have a problem, and we like it.” The GCA facebook page doesn’t appear to be a forum to encourage abstinence or any kind of recovery, and some of the only resources for a desperate gum addict include slide shows from sites like Livestrong and Prevention. This is somewhat tragic, because gum addiction can not only end in TMJ and lockjaw, but it can also lead to malnourishment, as scientists discovered in a 2012 study. Many people will eat a piece of sugar-free gum prior to eating a meal in order to curb their appetite and not overeat, but this habit, especially when eating mint gum, often renders healthy foods like fruits and veggies bitter, so the gum addict heads for the junk food.

Of course, if you’re addicted to the sugary stuff you could end up with several cavities, which, if left untreated, can lead to root canals. And anyone who’s had dental work knows it’s a) painful and b) ludicrously expensive. The flip side is, certain sugar-free gums are known to prevent cavities, especially when they are sweetened with xylitol, which doesn’t sound like the healthiest thing to put in your body. But whether it’s worth picking up an addiction like compulsive gum chewing to prevent cavities that could easily be preventing through other means like flossing, brushing well and seeing your dentist regularly, is up to you.

Addiction to chewing gum, according to the folks online writing candidly about their experiences, is a debilitating addiction. It sounds silly in comparison to heroin, drinking, smoking or compulsive overeating, especially when chewing gum can be a substitute for a more serious addiction, like smoking. But for those who are afflicted, it can be painful and get in the way of daily activities, as evidenced by my psycho roommate.

Perhaps more studies should be done within either the medical or dental community. The least the medical community could do is lobby for a Surgeon General warning on a pack of Extra or Juicy Fruit or Trident that reads “Chewing too much gum can cause TMJ, lockjaw and malnourishment.”

Or maybe the addicts can just try to outdo the largest bubble blown in the Guinness Book of Records if they can’t lay off the stuff. There’s no prize money, but maybe they can be featured at a fair or freak show.

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About Author

Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer for many publications including the LA Times, LA Weekly, Smashd, VICE and Salon. She writes mostly about food, technology and culture, in addition to addiction and mental health. She holds a Master's in Professional Writing from USC and is finishing up her novel.