9 Reasons You Need to Stop Chewing Ice ASAP
It’s not as harmless as you might think, and it could be a sign of a very serious problem. We reached out to leading medical and nutrition experts to find out about the dangers.
You may be masking something serious
Eating ice may seem innocuous, but if it becomes a compulsive habit you could be doing serious damage to yourself. (Here are 10 other bad habits you should quit). In fact, chewing ice compulsively, called pagophagia, is a variant of pica—an eating disorder in which one craves non-food items (think hair, glue, dirt, and worse) can be a sign of a host of other very serious physical, mental and emotional ailments, all of which can have long-term consequences for your well-being.
You’re cracking 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 New York-based cosmetic dentist at Lowenberg, Lituchy & Kantor. “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.”
You’re risking cavities and 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 and eating ice also means you may be more prone to cavities. Here’s a look at something else that may have a negative effect on healthy teeth.
Your 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 much gentler on teeth.” Another option he suggests is letting ice slivers melt in your mouth or eating foods such as carrots or apple chunks. “This may help satisfy the need to crunch down on ice.” For other signs you may be in trouble, see these nine signs you have a cavity.
You may be ignoring a mineral deficiency
“Chewing substances with no nutritional value like ice is a potential sign of iron deficiency anemia,” says naturopathic physician Jennifer Stagg, ND. “Researchers are not exactly sure why this practice is linked to this type of anemia, but one study indicated it might keep people more alert and people who have anemia can feel significant fatigue because of the condition.” Ice chewing, she says, can also be more common in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder and autism. “When I see patients who have pica, I also test them for other mineral deficiencies in addition to testing them for anemia and iron status.” If you feel as though you may have a mineral deficiency you might also want to avoid these foods that drain your energy levels.
You may be overlooking emotional issues
“Pica can also be a symptom of stress, emotional upset, obsessive-compulsive disorder and, in children, a developmental disorder,” says nutritionist Vanessa Rissetto, RD. “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 essential oils that are known to help.
You’re sliding into 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—and the slippery slope to serious malnutrition that can permanently damage organs, bones, and even your brain. “Obviously, this speaks to a larger issue,” says Rissetto.
You’re 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 Dr. Stagg. There are much healthier ways to let off steam, such as these 37 stress management tips.
You’re soothing 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 Dr. Stagg. “It’s critical to find out what is causing the inflammation and address that for effective treatment. There are a wide range of causes and a swollen tongue that comes on suddenly can be life-threatening and must be dealt with as a medical emergency.”