9 Reasons You Should Stop Chewing Ice
It's not as harmless as you might think, and it could be a sign of a health problem. Here's what medical and nutrition experts say.
It could mask something serious
Eating ice may seem innocuous, but if it becomes a compulsive habit, you could be doing some damage to yourself. In fact, chewing ice compulsively, called pagophagia, is a variant of pica—an eating pattern in which one craves non-food items, such as hair, glue, dirt, or worse. (Here are 11 bad habits doctors wish you would stop.)
It might crack tooth enamel
“Chewing ice is a habit that a lot of people have and are completely unaware of its harmful effects,” says Gregg Lituchy, DDS, a cosmetic dentist at Lowenberg, Lituchy & Kantor in New York. “It will create wear and tear on enamel resulting in microfractures, which can potentially cause the tooth to break. This could even be as severe as needing root canal therapy.”
It has a risk of tooth sensitivity
The dental damage that comes from chewing ice goes beyond tooth enamel. “It also includes cracked and chipped teeth, problems with fillings and crowns, and even sore jaw muscles.” Dr. Lituchy also adds that many people say their teeth become extremely sensitive to hot and cold drinks and foods.
It could cause a gum infection
“When chewing on ice there is also the potential risk of eating a sharp piece of ice that could puncture your gums causing infection and other serious gum issues,” says Dr. Lituchy. “If you feel the need to chew on something, try chewing sugar-free gum. It will keep your breath fresh and is much gentler on teeth.” Another option: Let ice slivers melt in your mouth or eat foods such as carrots or apple chunks. “This may help satisfy the need to crunch down on ice.” For other signs you may have dental trouble, see these 9 signs you have a cavity.
It can be a sign of a mineral deficiency
Chewing substances with no nutritional value like ice may be a potential sign of iron deficiency anemia, according to the Mayo Clinic. One study published in Medical Hypotheses found that in people with anemia, ice-chewing improved alertness and mental processing speed (it was no help to people without the condition). The researchers theorized that the cooling effects of chewing ice could boost blood flow to the brain. If you’re feeling run down, you might also want to avoid these 8 foods that drain your energy levels.
It may be linked to emotional issues
“Pica can also be a symptom of stress, emotional upset, obsessive-compulsive disorder and, in children, a developmental disorder,” says Vanessa Rissetto, RD, a nutritionist in Hoboken, New Jersey. “If you learn that you are not deficient in iron, you might consider cognitive behavioral therapy, which can help overcome pica.” If anxiety is an issue, check out these therapist tips for coping with anxiety.
It could be a symptom of an eating disorder
Some people trying to diet or restrict food will turn to ice to keep their mouth busy. The problem, says Rissetto, is that you’re depriving yourself of necessary nutrition and calories. “Obviously, this speaks to a larger issue,” says Rissetto.
It could be hiding serious stress
If you find you’re reaching for cubes when you’re worried about work or finances, the habit could be a method for stress relief. “Routinely chewing ice might be a means of reducing stress for some people or perhaps even a habit, but it may be an underlying sign of a more serious medical condition,” says Stagg. There are much healthier ways to let off steam, such as these 37 stress management tips.
It could be an attempt to soothe inflammation—ineffectively
Some nutritional deficiencies can lead to an inflamed tongue or gums, and chewing ice can ease it—but at a cost. “Any relief from chewing ice for this purpose is short-lived,” says Stagg. “It’s critical to find out what is causing the inflammation and address that for effective treatment.” Here are 10 signs you may have a vitamin deficiency.
- Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin: "Signs and Symptoms of Nutritional Deficiencies"
- National Eating Disorders Association: “Pica”
- Rinsho Ketsueki: “Pagophagia in Iron Deficiency Anemia”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Pica"
- Gregg Lituchy, DDS, cosmetic dentist at Lowenberg, Lituchy & Kantor, New York, New York
- Mayo Clinic: "Craving and chewing ice: A sign of anemia?"
- Vanessa Rissetto, RD, nutritionist, Hoboken, New Jersey
- Medical Hypotheses: "Pagophagia improves neuropsychological processing speed in iron-deficiency anemia"