I chew on staples, paper clips, and scotch tape. Am I going to die?
April 28, 2008 1:46 PM   Subscribe

I chew on staples, paper clips, and scotch tape. Am I going to die?

I have an oral fixation. It's really bad, actually.

I'm always exposed to office supplies both at home and work. Habitually, I release a few staples from the stapler, throw them in my mouth and suck on them for a bit. Or I take some paperclips and do the same. Also, I tend to take about two inches of scotch tape and chew that -- ingesting the adhesive that comes off right away. Similarly, I chew on straws, drink stirrers, toothpicks, and anything else found at a restaurant.

Am I going to get cancer and die?

Are there any really bad health risks associated with my tendencies?

Thanks AskMeFi
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

No, just don't swallow any, as that could be discomforting. Consider investing in a box or two of toothpicks for the home and office.
posted by allkindsoftime at 1:49 PM on April 28, 2008

All I could think of is maybe piercing something by swallowing a paper clip/staples or chipping a tooth.
posted by rancidchickn at 1:51 PM on April 28, 2008

Yes, you are going to die, but not from this. I 2nd the toothpick idea, but don't use flavored ones if you're going to be using them habitually--cinnamon toothpicks are a definite carcinogen.
posted by neuron at 1:54 PM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:54 PM on April 28, 2008

My first thought was pica, an eating disorder that involves swallowing non-food items. But according to your account, that's not really what you do.

Most of us (I suspect) put eraser tips, pen caps, and the like in our mouths from time to time. And most of these items are either indigestible (most plastics & stainless metals), or fairly harmless (zinc- or copper-coated paper clips).

IANAD, but it sounds like a mild obsession with self-stimulation. This is a regressive (infantlike) behavior, and so it is not surprising that it tends towards oral self-stimulation. Such behavior is often noted along with other behavioral issues (autistics, for instance, may exhibit it), but AFAIK is not itself considered self-destructive.

My opinions, FWIW.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:57 PM on April 28, 2008

What if you just chewed gum all the time?
posted by Dec One at 1:58 PM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

I know it's not really an answer to your question, but going along with the suggestions for alternatives so far, what about gum or candy?
posted by burnmp3s at 1:59 PM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

What you are describing sounds to me like pica. We dealt with it with our autistic son, who became obsessed with eating paper, leading to some pretty severe digestive problems that ultimately required a manual disimpaction. My understanding is that sometimes pica can be directly related to certain vitamin deficiencies, so your treatment *might* be as simple as taking a vitamin suppliment. (I am not a doctor, and I would urge you to see your own doctor before accepting that particular advice).

Other times, like with our son, the pica is more of a psychological disorder. It took us almost two years to get it under control with him, but obviously he was limited by his other autistic tenancies. You might be able to overcome the problem in less time, if that is what you desire.

Good luck.
posted by Lokheed at 1:59 PM on April 28, 2008

Chewing on the metal items (or other hard items) could damage your teeth. That sounds like the biggest risk to me.

Re: Pica: AFAIK, diagnosing a mental disorder/illness requires that the behaviour is inhibiting your ability to function as expected (whether socially, or digestively, etc., etc.). (IANAD!)
posted by winston at 2:06 PM on April 28, 2008

I'd be concerned not just about your teeth, but your gums could also get damaged and infected from staples and other pointy metal things. I'd advise you try to switch to something softer.
posted by Koko at 2:13 PM on April 28, 2008

I guarantee you that you're going to die. It's just not going to be from chewing on this stuff.

The biggest problem will be, as winston says, screwing up your teeth. Chewing anything hard on the corners of your teeth will wear down the enamel over a long period of time. Eventually you'd need to get veneers.
posted by Justinian at 2:15 PM on April 28, 2008

I do the same think. I don't exactly chew, but I thread things like single staples through my teeth. I particularly like the plastic bits that are used to hold the tags on clothing.

I haven't noticed any ill effects thus far. Sometimes I accidentally tie my jaws together, I've always been able to free myself though.
posted by davey_darling at 2:25 PM on April 28, 2008

I think chewing on those staples and paper clips is a really bad idea.

They are not supposed to contain lead or other toxic metals, but they are probably fabricated overseas where it can be done most cheaply, and are certainly much less likely to have been tested than rubber duckies, and look what happened there. Lead alloys have lots of advantages in metal working and lead can be an expensive contaminant to get rid of in ores, so I think it behooves you to be careful.
posted by jamjam at 2:37 PM on April 28, 2008

I don't think that chewing these things is going to kill you or give you cancer, though you might want to watch out for the sharp ends of those staples and paper clips. When I was a little kid I used to eat scotch tape (just like you described), Elmer's Glue, and all sorts of other odd things. Eventually I stopped, though I was still a kid then. I didn't get cancer, and (at age 46) I'm still alive.
posted by Robert Angelo at 2:45 PM on April 28, 2008

Try paper instead. Metal is probably something you shouldn't chew on, too much risk of hurting a tooth or your gums. I almost always pull out and chew on that little plastic plug in cheap Bic pens, coffee stirrers, and there isn't a stack of papers in my office that doesn't have the corners ripped off (avoid the ink). 20 years, not dead yet... probably isn't going to hurt you as long as you're not actually eating it. Less sugar and bad things than gum!
posted by zengargoyle at 2:47 PM on April 28, 2008

I got scotch tape stuck in my sinuses once, from chewing. A couple days of regular sinus rinsing and it came out, covered in mucus. I didn't die, though it wasn't particularly pleasant.
posted by wemayfreeze at 2:48 PM on April 28, 2008

As rancidchickn said, if you accidentally swallow those paperclips, toothpicks or staples, you could be in for trouble that could require surgery.

You could also accidentally aspirate them if, for some reason, you sharply inhale while you're sucking/chewing on them. A cough, a gasp caused by a someone startling you, etc., could cause it to go down your trachea and lodge there or further down.

I remember an episode of Untold Stories of The E.R. wherein the patient was a man who had been doing some sort of work on his ceiling. He had been holding a thumbtack in his mouth in order to have both hands free, and it went *plunk* down his trachea. The recreation was horrifying: coughing up blood, each cough was making it worse, and he couldn't talk to the doctors because trying to talk would cause him to cough.
posted by CKmtl at 3:01 PM on April 28, 2008

I was quite a chewer myself..I liked to chew on pens and paper clips...
I recently got myself a big old case of chewing gum and I haven't put anything in my mouth since. I am sure I'll die from the nutrasweet or whatever the heck Orbits puts in their gum though.
posted by smithygreg at 3:24 PM on April 28, 2008

I work in an industry that does lots of product testing, and we recently found out that paperclips contain lead. Just discussed it today, in fact. I'd keep all the metal out of my mouth if I were you.
posted by chippie at 4:18 PM on April 28, 2008

Don't put small metal objects in your mouth. Chew gum. That's what it's sold for. Or candy. Or chopped veggies.
posted by Phalene at 9:26 PM on April 28, 2008

Pica seems to be answer of the month. Like supertaster was last time. Can't people just chew on some stuff?

Stop chewing on the metal things. Do you know what's good? Those little plastic liners inside the cap of plastic pop bottles. Bite them into a spiral, and then bite fringe into the spiral. Yeah!

Or, you know, gum.
posted by Sallyfur at 12:34 AM on April 29, 2008

I'm a chewer too, but I use straws -- it's a hell of a lot safer. Any time I go to a fast-food joint with good straws, I grab a handful before I head out.

Arby's and Chik-Fil-A have really good straws for it -- nice and thick. Avoid McDonald's -- those stripes are apparently just painted on, and it's annoying when they start to peel off.
posted by Doofus Magoo at 3:42 AM on April 29, 2008

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