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Chewing Gum Treatment for Migraine in Teens

Chewing gum and migraine in teens

Teens and younger children suffer with migraine as well as tension headaches, and typical treatments include ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and when necessary, triptans. But now a study appearing in Pediatric Neurology points to a drug-free treatment for this painful condition: chewing gum.

Actually, a more accurate description would be stopping the act of chewing gum. According to Dr. Nathan Watemberg, of Meir Medical Center (affiliated with Tel Aviv University) and his colleagues, young people who chew gum are giving themselves headaches.

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Chewing gum study
Watemberg and his team enrolled 30 individuals ages 6 to 19 years old who experienced chronic migraine or tension headache and who also chewed gum for 1 to 6 hours daily. All of the participants were asked to stop chewing gum for one month.

Here’s what they found:

  • 19 of the young people said their headaches had disappeared completely
  • 7 said the intensity and frequency of their headaches had decreased
  • When 20 of the participants agreed to chew gum again on a daily basis for two weeks, all of them said their headache symptoms returned with days

The most likely explanation for why chewing gum causes migraine and tension headache pain involves the jaw and the joint known as the temporomandibular joint, or TMJ. In addition to being the most used joint in the body, it also is the one associated with grinding of the teeth at night, an activity that also causes headache.

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As Watemberg pointed out in a statement from the university, “Every doctor knows that overuse of the TMJ will cause headaches. I believe this is what’s happening when children and teenagers chew gum excessively.”

So if your child or teen experienced migraine or tension headache and he or she chews a lot of gum, a possible drug-free solution is to simply say “no” to chewing gum. If the migraines and headaches persist, then other options can be pursued.

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It’s important to remember that headache among children and teens is often triggered by insufficient sleep, stress, heat, sunlight, missed meals, video games, and smoking. Among females, menstruation also is a factor. Lifestyle changes should be considered before relying on medication for treatment of migraine and tension headache in teens and children.

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American Friends of Tel Aviv University press release
Watemberg N et al. The influence of excessive chewing gum use on headache frequency and severity among adolescents. Pediatric Neurology 2013 Nov 1: pii S0887-8994(13)00540-7