How Chewing Gum Is a Post-Surgery Benefit

a doctor showing chewing gum - featured image

By Bill Wirtz

Each day, millions of surgeries are performed on patients who have various degrees of need, some elective, some ambulatory. While the surgery itself can cause dangers to patients, they mostly happen without much of their involvement other than being present. 

The real struggle and work for patients starts following the procedure: coping mechanisms, reeducation, pain, and lasting health effects. Not even the best doctors will be discharging you from a hospital post-surgery without prescribing a list of exercises (or lack thereof) and medication.

A fascinating benefit in post-surgery recovery is chewing gum. Commonly known only as a confectionery, chewing gum has benefits that reach far beyond the known ones, such as fighting tooth decay and boosting focus

“Chewing gum could accelerate the recovery of intestinal function after colorectal cancer surgery”, found this meta-study from 2017, which took into account 17 randomized controlled trials from over 1,500 patients. 

Overall, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 23 men and 1 in 26 women, according to the American Cancer Society, which also says that this year alone, there were already over 100,000 cases of colorectal cancer in the U.S.

Another example is the effects on post-operative ileus (POI), which is a problematic post-surgery problem that physicians and patients are trying to solve. 

Post-operative ileus is the prolonged delay in the coordinated movements of the gastrointestinal tract – and presents itself through nausea and vomiting, constipation, and abdominal pain. 

This condition is benign in many patients, yet constitutes a drain on the medical system overall: “Post-operative ileus has been shown to lengthen hospital stay and increased hospital costs; indeed, the overall annual expenditure in the US secondary to post-operative ileus is around $750 million to $1 billion.”

Patients who chew gum have been shown to have less POI and reduce their hospital stay overall through this 2014 study, which also recommends chewing gum as adjunctive therapy to reduce post-operative POI.

The best time to start chewing gum after surgery is usually on the day of surgery or the day after. You should start with a few minutes of chewing at a time and gradually increase the amount of time you chew each day. 

You should also avoid chewing gum that is hard or sticky, as this could irritate your stitches or incisions, depending on the type of surgery you’ve had.

It is important to talk to your doctor before you start chewing gum after surgery. They can help you determine if it is right for you and can give you specific instructions on how to do it safely.

Bill Wirtz is the Senior Policy Analyst at the Consumer Choice Center.

Last Updated on August 21, 2023

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