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Child Development

Does Chewing Gum Help Kids with ADD and ADHD?

May 31, 2023
Table of Contents

    Physical activity can have extensive positive impacts on people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These benefits may include but aren't necessarily limited to better focus and working memory, reduced hyperactive and impulsive symptoms, and improved mood. In addition to formal exercise or active play, one may use smaller movements or practices to focus and self-regulate throughout the day.

    Chewing gum is an excellent example of self-stimulatory behavior that a person with ADHD might turn to. It's also worthwhile to note that it is common for both kids and adults with ADHD to have an oral fixation. One might chew on food, a designated toy (such as a chew necklace), or, without more suitable items to turn to, their sleeve, hair, or something else, to aid focus. Gum is a more acceptable, and sometimes more appropriate, option. 

    So, can chewing gum replicate some of the positive effects of other body movements and modes of self-regulation? This article will discuss the benefits and drawbacks of gum chewing for kids with ADHD, and tips parents can use to navigate chewing gum as a coping strategy. We'll also touch on what parents can do if they want their kids to chew gum at school.

    Note: Attention deficit disorder (ADD) is no longer a diagnosis and is now typically diagnosed as primarily inattentive ADHD.

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    The Benefits of Chewing Gum for Kids with ADHD

    It is relatively well-known that people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) benefit from physical exercise and movement of various forms, including activities that are more or less intensive than others. Research also shows that fidgeting is associated with an increase in focus and attention in people with the disorder. Knowing this about small movements, like fidgeting, it makes sense that chewing gum could have a similar effect. Some studies suggest that this could be the case indeed.

    For example, a 2009 study looking at four classes of 3rd-grade students, two of which chewed gum during a 16-minute test and two of which did not, found that chewing gum was associated with a significant positive effect on concentration performance.

    Similarly, a small research study published in 2022 found that gum chewing was associated with sustained attention performance in study participants both with and without ADHD. Specifically, the study included 35 adults with ADHD and 30 adults without the disorder. While this study was not conducted on children, it does suggest that gum chewing could be valuable for those with the disorder.

    Another potential advantage of chewing gum is that it may lead to reductions in stress. For example, some studies indicate that chewing gum during exposure to stress reduces mental stress and lowers plasma and salivary cortisol levels. This can be helpful for kids with ADHD who may be prone to stress and frustration.

    If they find it helpful, some of the benefits of chewing gum for kids with ADHD as a mode of improving attention include affordability, accessibility, and the fact that gum chewing is unlikely to distract others. Moving around during class or in similar spaces, on the other hand, might. 

    The Drawbacks of Chewing Gum for Kids With ADHD

    The main drawback of chewing gum for kids with ADHD is that there's not enough research on the topic to come to a comprehensive conclusion on how much or how effectively it reduces symptoms, as well as other factors, like how frequently it can or should be used. Although some researchers have found that those with ADHD who chewed gum during a particular study experienced benefits such as improvements in particular cognitive efforts, stress, and mood, other studies suggest that it could have a negative impact.

    For example, a crossover study on 32 children with ADHD and 32 children without the disorder found that both groups experienced detrimental effects on vigilance when chewing gum during task execution. In that crossover study, it was determined that gum does not appear to improve attentional performance. That said, these results are heavily challenged by other studies that show the potential positive effects of chewing gum. 

    Other drawbacks are more likely in cases of excessive gum chewing but can happen regardless. These detrimental effects include but aren't limited to jaw pain, digestive issues (abdominal distress may occur if artificial sweetener is an ingredient in one's chewing gum), cavities (from sugared gum), and mouth ulcers. 

    A lot of people chew gum with little-to-no negative consequences, so whether or not someone will experience unfavorable effects depends on the individual. Largely, chewing gum is considered safe for kids old enough to understand that it is not to be swallowed. 

    Tips for Gum Chewing as a Coping Strategy

    If you want to introduce gum as a potential coping strategy for your child, taking the right approach can help you avoid potential drawbacks such as jaw pain and GI discomfort. Use the following tips to help your child get the benefits of chewing gum without overdoing it or causing harm.

    Monitor the effects

    Be attentive to the way chewing gum impacts your child. If any problems arise, limit chewing gum and stick to the boundaries you establish. This could include not just the possibility of physical symptoms but any concerns that could arise at school or other parts of life that relate to gum chewing.

    Work with your child's doctor

    If there's anything you aren't sure how to navigate when it comes to the use of chewing gum for children with ADHD, ask your child's doctor for advice. They will be able to provide individualized guidance and answer your questions. Your child's doctor can help you determine how much gum is too much, suggest types of gum to choose from (sugar-free is usually best), and avoid or address specific issues, like side effects.

    Similarly, if your child with ADHD needs more support in a specific area, including their ability to focus, and you're not sure what to do, a doctor may be able to suggest additions to your child's treatment plan.

    Don't replace established treatments

    Do not attempt to replace a child's treatment plan with gum chewing. There are many effective treatment strategies used for ADHD. The most popular treatment options include a combination of medication and therapy. Ideally, you'll utilize these alongside familial support, school accommodations, and anything else that helps your unique child. 

    While it can be time-consuming, don't give up on finding the right support if you haven't already. There's a host of available treatments for ADHD, including additional or alternative approaches for kids who need more help or don't respond well to traditional treatment options. For example, occupational therapy, tutoring, animal-assisted therapy, social skills training, and more.

    Add other tools

    Chewing gum can support a child with ADHD in their daily life to some degree, but it shouldn't be the only tool. Frequent physical activity, getting enough sleep, regular meals and snacks, structured routines, apps like Joon, and an assortment of items other than gum, can also help with focus. Items other than gum to add to your child's toolkit may include fidget toys, sensory toys, and checklists or sticker charts that help kids keep track of their obligations. Keeping items like fidget spinners, sensory slugs, monkey noodles, and tangle toys around will occupy a child's hands and may help them self-soothe and focus in a way that is similar to gum chewing. 

    What if I Want my Child to Chew Gum at School?

    While it isn't true for all kids with ADHD, many children with the condition have accommodations in place at school to help them succeed. What if you want your child to be able to chew gum at school to improve their focus, but they aren't allowed to due to school rules? There are ways around this for parents who have kids with ADHD. Similar to how 504 plans may allow children with ADHD to use fidget toys during class or take extra breaks, school districts may allow kids to add chewing gum as an accommodation. This could be worth pursuing if your child's school has a rule against chewing gum. 


    Physical activity and body movements are often associated with a number of beneficial effects for people with ADHD. Often, kids with ADHD move around, fidget, or chew on something to improve their focus and self-regulate. Chewing gum is an easily accessible option that draws little attention to a child in contexts where other behaviors or tools might not be appropriate.

    Although there's not extensive research on the topic at this time, some studies indicate that participants who chew gum see improvements in focus. Gum chewing may also reduce stress. Aside from the lack of conclusive research on gum chewing and children's ability to focus, potential drawbacks might include cavities, jaw pain, and GI effects.

    While chewing gum can very well be a helpful tool for kids with ADHD, it shouldn't replace treatments such as medicine and therapy, nor should it be the only additional item in a child's toolkit. Tips for parents who allow their children to chew gum but want to avoid potential drawbacks include but aren't limited to:

    • Monitoring a child's gum usage.
    • Connecting with their doctor.
    • Ensuring that a child has adequate treatment and support.

    School tends to be one of the main parts of life where kids with ADHD experience challenges related to concentration. If the gum isn't allowed at your child's school, but you notice that it supports their ability to focus and want them to have it in the classroom, they might be able to access it through a 504 plan.


    Sarah Schulze MSN, APRN, CPNP

    Sarah is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner with a specialty certification in pediatric mental health. She works at a clinic in Champaign Illinois, providing care to children and adolescents with mental health disorders. She obtained her bachelor's in nursing from Indiana State University in 2011 and completed her master's in nursing from University of Illinois at Chicago in 2014. She is passionate about helping children create a solid foundation on which they can grow into healthy adults.


    Sarah Schulze MSN, APRN, CPNP

    Sarah is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner with a specialty certification in pediatric mental health. She works at a clinic in Champaign Illinois, providing care to children and adolescents with mental health disorders. She obtained her bachelor's in nursing from Indiana State University in 2011 and completed her master's in nursing from University of Illinois at Chicago in 2014. She is passionate about helping children create a solid foundation on which they can grow into healthy adults.