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Is chewing gum during Bell’s palsy good or bad?

In general, casual chewing gum will not have any effect on your Bell’s palsy itself. First, because the main muscles involved in chewing, the jaw muscles, are innervated by the trigeminal nerve, not a facial nerve. During facial palsy, the trigeminal nerve is not affected. Second, Bell’s palsy is a paralysis of the facial nerve. While chewing a gum is just chewing. During the chewing process, the facial muscles involved in the process are trying to work and of course, your affected side cannot work as well if your Bell’s palsy just happened.

Effects of chewing depend on your stage of recovery

Chewing or not chewing will not have any effect on the area where the damage to the facial nerve occurs. Most often, it happens just behind your ear, in the pyramid of the temporal bone. Chewing gum simply makes your brain send contraction signals to specific muscles needed to perform the movement. The effect these signals might have depends on the stage of your recovery.

Chewing gum in the acute stage of Bell’s palsy (no movements)

During the acute stage, depending on the severity of the damage, your facial nerve can become disconnected from the facial muscles around your mouth (mostly of your lips), which are involved in the act of chewing. It’s important to remember that facial palsy does not damage your facial muscles, only the facial nerve.

So, when you are chewing, your brain sends signals via the facial nerve to the specific facial muscles needed to perform this action. If your nerve hasn’t regenerated sufficiently, these signals will not reach the facial muscles and your lips will not follow the chewing movements of your jaw on the affected side.

That’s all. It will not help your recovery by constantly sending signals from the brain to the muscles. It will also not harm you, because the signals will simply not reach any of the mimetic muscles and nothing will happen. If anything, it might make you upset by constantly reminding you that you are unable to use your muscles yet. As we know, negative emotions impair your recovery potential, so it is best to stay positive and hopeful.

Chewing gum in the late recovery stages of Bell’s palsy (after you have regained SOME movements)

On the other hand, a different story happens if you have already experienced some movements, but they are not back 100%. In this case, a lot of, or very intense chewing might cause contractions in the facial muscles that are involved in the process.

This can happen because not all fibres of the facial nerve have regenerated yet. Your brain will be sending contraction signals to the muscles, but only a few of the facial nerve fibres will transmit the signals to the muscle. The nerve fibres that regenerated, become connected to their respective muscle fibres (parts of the muscles). They will transmit the signals only to their muscle fibres. So, instead of the whole muscle performing the movement, only a few fibres will try to do the work of the whole muscle. This task can be too difficult for them. They will not have sufficient time to relax and as a result, they will cramp. You may experience this as a painful contraction.

As a rule of thumb

If you experience pain when you are chewing gum, it is better to avoid it. If during the chewing process you do not feel any discomfort, you can continue doing it. Always listen to your body and what it is telling you. If something does not feel good on your face when you are trying to perform it, it is better to avoid it. Our facial muscles should stay in a comfortable and relaxed feeling.

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Alex Pashov

Co-founder of Crystal Touch clinic and Bell's palsy expert.

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