Sometimes on hot days, we enjoy chewing ice cubes. It's okay occasionally, but if you find yourself constantly craving ice every day and it becomes a habit, it's important to think twice. Even though it might not seem like a big deal, chewing ice can seriously harm your teeth. This article explores why chewing ice can be risky, why people develop this habit, and ways to stop it.
Chewing ice regularly harms your teeth because ice chewing can cause cracks and fractures in teeth. Ice-chewers also frequently experience tooth sensitivity, infection, and restoration damage.
Underlying health conditions like anemia, emotional turmoil, and eating disorders can be the cause of compulsive ice chewing.
Talk to your doctor if the ice-chewing habit grows and persists for more than one month. They might start therapy depending on the underlying cause and suggest healthy alternatives to overcome the habit.
Risks of chewing ice
Teeth are not designed to chew ice. The American Dental Association (ADA) warns that the ice chewing habit is one of the worst habits for teeth. Here's what happens to your healthy teeth when you indulge in this habit mindlessly.
Cracks and tears on tooth enamel
Tooth enamel is the hardest substance in the body, but it's brittle. Since both ice and teeth are crystalline in structure, rubbing them together tears them down. In the process, the tooth can develop tiny cracks on its surface too. These cracks grow with time and eventually weaken healthy tooth structure. As the cracks deepen, prominent fracture lines develop. In extreme cases, the teeth can fracture too.
When cracks develop on the tooth enamel, the terminal nerve endings below (in the underlying dentin) open up. Whenever you have hot or cold beverages, these nerves get exposed to these thermal stimuli and cause discomfort. You can experience a tingling sensation, a mild, dull ache, or even a sudden, sharp pain.
Any crack in the teeth can invite oral bacteria to enter inside and lead to inflammation and infection. A tooth once infected needs immediate attention to avoid spreading to the gums and adjacent oral tissues.
Chipping of teeth
When you bite a cube of ice with the edges of your teeth, your teeth might chip away around the corners. You are more at risk when you chew ice with your front teeth or previously filled teeth.
Damage to teeth restorations
Teeth restorations have varying physical attributes- some are hard, some are brittle, and some are not so hard. Chewing ice regularly with restored teeth increases your risk of damaging them.
Is chewing ice a sign of a serious condition?
The consistent craving to chew ice can be a sign of an underlying health condition. Here are 4 diseases you need to be aware of if you have an ice chewing habit:
- Anemia. Research shows that the habit of chewing ice consistently can indicate iron deficiency anemia. Chewing ice can help improve mental alertness, particularly in individuals who are iron-deficient and whose red blood cells struggle to carry enough oxygen to the brain due to an iron deficiency. Interestingly, cravings for ice often reduce dramatically with iron supplementation. Women of fertile age (menstruating, pregnant, and lactating women) are at risk of iron deficiency and can develop impulsive ice-chewing habits.
- Pagophagia. Pagophagia is a type of “pica”. The term "pica" refers to eating disorders in which a person consumes non-food items. To put it simply, pagophagia is a pica where one desires to chew on ice. Craving for ice is most common in youngsters; however, adults can also develop pagophagia.
- Emotional distress. Compulsive ice chewing is also linked to mental health issues. People with obsessive-compulsive disorders and depression are prone to developing this habit. An interesting study in 2018 reported a woman with high anxiety levels who felt better only after consuming chunks of ice cubes.
- Dry mouth. Chewing or sucking on ice can also be caused by dry mouth or xerostomia. Those with xerostomia frequently choose ice as a temporary relief option because it soothes dryness and irritation in the mouth and hydrates it.
Quitting the ice-chewing habit
Chewing ice comes with more risks than benefits. If you are a regular ice-chewer, it's best to quit the habit as early as possible. Being aware of the frequency and intensity of the habit is essential to managing it.
Here are a few healthy alternatives that you can consider:
- Understand the cause. Before trying to stop the habit, it's important to know why it's happening. If chewing ice is because of low iron, taking iron supplements might help, and the ice craving could go away. If it's related to pica, there are different ways to help, like therapy or medication.
- Try sugar-free gum. If you enjoy chewing, try sugar-free gums. It has that munching sensation without the risk of damaging your teeth.
- Keep the crunch; cut the ice. If it's not really about the ice but the crunch you like, you can try eating crunchy and healthy edibles like carrots, broccoli, or nuts instead of ice. If you enjoy cold foods, you can also try choosing cool drinks without ice to cut down on this habit.
When to seek help
If you have been chewing a lot of ice regularly for a month or longer, it is not just a habit anymore. It's a disorder, and it's best to seek professional help. You also need to know whether the craving is getting stronger every day. It is best to talk to a healthcare professional before the habit gets out of control. Some people can experience symptoms of weakness, dizziness, and mood swings along with the craving. These might be a clear sign of an underlying disease.
To identify the root of the issue, your doctor will examine your past medical history, mental health, and current prescriptions. If they suspect anemia or a deficiency, you may need a blood test to confirm.
Chewing ice occasionally is nothing to be concerned about. See your doctor if the habit becomes more severe and lasts longer than a month. Discuss your symptoms, identify the cause behind and start therapy. It is important to take good care of your oral and dental health.
Does chewing ice ruin your teeth?
Regularly chewing ice can harm your teeth by putting them under stress and potentially causing cracks or chips. To maintain good dental and oral health, it's advisable to steer clear of this habit.
What is an alternative to chewing ice?
Consider alternatives that are not only satisfying but also tooth-friendly. Snacking on crunchy fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of tooth decay. Chewing on sugar-free gum is another way to avoid chewing on ice.
How do I stop craving ice?
Finding out the root cause of the habit is key. Talk to your doctor if it persists for more than a month. Your doctor will help identify the cause and advise therapy accordingly.
- American Dental Association. 6 Habits That Harm Your Teeth.
- Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research. Pagophagia - a common but rarely reported form of pica.
- Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners. Ask about ice, then consider iron.