This is a question I get asked quite often by my patients. “Is chewing ice bad for my teeth?”
The definitive answer is: YAAAASSSS!!!! Let me tell you about why people chew ice, and how in fact it can severely damage your choppers.
You probably started chomping on ice cubes in your drink when you were a kid and your mom had to tell you stop doing it because it was rude to make so much noise at the dinner table. Well, not only that, but you were consciously chewing on super cold and super hard stuff. Our teeth are not meant to handle so much stress when masticating (that’s the technical term for chewing). So as you can imagine, what happens over time if you continue to chew on ice, is that your teeth start to wear down and over time your bite gets all out of whack. Also, the severe cold temperature of the ice will cause the enamel on your teeth to expand and contract. Not only that, if you have any type of fillings, the material of your fillings will expand and contract at a much faster rate that the enamel of your tooth, thereby causing teeny tiny cracks in your enamel. Just like you see the cracks in the asphalt after years of winter and summer seasons passing, the same thing happens to your teeth. And eventually these micro cracks will turn into large cracks and you’ll simply break your teeth off!
Pagophagia is a form of the disorder pica and it involved the compulsive consumption of ice or iced drinks. Typically, it has been associated with iron deficiency anemia. However, once iron levels are increased, most people stop the ice chewing habit. It is purported that people with iron deficiency chew ice constantly in order to soothe the pain associated with glossitis ( an inflamed tongue) which is a symptom of iron deficiency. Usually the tongue is super red and irritated and can become painful. So the super cold ice numbs the pain, and hence leads to pagophagia .
However, if you’ve not been diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia, then why are you still chewing on ice? For some it may be generally soothing habit to calm them down in a stressful situation, much like biting your nails or gnawing on a pencil. For others they just love to visit the dentist so much that they try as hard as possible to do severe damage to their teeth so they can rack up some more dental chair time…..said no one ever! But it has been documented that due to peer pressure, children will grind and chew on hard things like ice to self-mutilate teeth because they are teased for having crooked and uneven teeth. So be sure to check up on your children and make sure they’re actually doing irreversible harm to their teeth.
Remember, our teeth are not meant to constantly chew on hard, cold chunks of ice! If you think you might be doing it because you have an underlying systemic disease like iron deficiency anemia, then call your medical doctor or your dentist to get checked out asap! And if you just can’t kick the habit then suck on the ice cubes instead – you’ll still get the pleasant cooling sensation you love without the long-term damage to your teeth.