Chewing ice is a habit many people indulge in, whether to combat stress, boredom or simply because they enjoy the sensation. As addicting as this habit is, munching on ice can have its consequences. But is chewing ice bad for your teeth? If done often, it can do irrevocable damage to your teeth.
If you don’t stop this mindless habit, you’re putting your teeth at risk for irreversible damage. After all, you are grinding hard ice cubes against them.
Read more to see the dire effects of excess ice chewing and what alternatives you can explore.
Why Do Some People Like Chewing Ice?
Hydration and Cooling Down
Chewing ice is the ultimate way to cool down on a hot day. Our bodies sweat to regulate temperature, and doing that can reduce our internal body heat. The cooling sensation on the tongue and mouth can be particularly refreshing.
Oral fixation is a term coined by Sigmund Freud to describe the human need to have something in the mouth that can equal a sense of comfort and security. This need can manifest in various ways, such as nail-biting, smoking, or, you guessed it, ice chewing.
Pagophagia is the medical term for a compulsive desire to chew ice, and it’s often associated with an iron deficiency called anemia. Iron-deficient individuals sometimes develop peculiar cravings for non-food items like dirt, clay, or ice.
Chewing on ice can also be a way to release stress or anxiety. For some, chewing or crunching can create a sense of relief, much like using a stress ball.
Chewing ice is a zero-calorie activity, which makes it an attractive option for those watching their weight. However, this shouldn’t substitute for a balanced diet and regular exercise.
While chewing ice might seem harmless, it can lead to dental problems and may indicate underlying health issues if done long enough.
Wear of Enamel
One of the most significant impacts is the potential wear of enamel, the hard, protective outer layer of your teeth. Enamel is incredibly strong, but it is not indestructible. Regularly chewing on rigid substances wears down your tooth’s enamel over time, making each one more susceptible to cavities and decay.
Microfractures in Teeth
The pressure exerted while chewing ice can lead to microfractures in the teeth. These tiny cracks may not be immediately noticeable but can become larger and more problematic over time, leading to tooth sensitivity and, eventually, tooth breakage.
Heightened Tooth Sensitivity
Tooth sensitivity occurs because the wearing down of enamel and the creation of microfractures can expose the dentin, the layer beneath the enamel. Dentin has microscopic tubules leading to the tooth’s nerve, so its exposure can cause pain and heightened sensitivity, especially when eating or drinking hot and cold foods and beverages.
Cracked and Fractured Teeth
Exposing your teeth to freezing temperatures, like those of ice cubes, can also have adverse effects. Our teeth consist of different materials that expand and contract with temperature changes. When you chew ice, you expose your teeth to a rapid temperature change, from body temperature to near freezing.
This rapid temperature change can cause the materials in your teeth to contract quickly and then expand again when exposed to warmer temperatures, potentially leading to cracks or fractures in the teeth.
Comparing Chewing Ice to Other Bad Habits
To give you better context on how bad chewing ice is, here are similar habits that can also damage your teeth:
Chewing on Pen Caps or Nails
While these objects are not as hard as ice, they can still cause damage to your teeth. Regular chewing on pen caps or nails can lead to the wearing down of enamel, just like chewing ice. Moreover, this habit can also lead to misalignment of your teeth or TMJ disorders, which affect the jaw joint and cause pain and discomfort.
Chewing on Hard Candy
Chewing on hard candy can have similar effects to chewing ice. It can lead to enamel wear, microfractures, and tooth sensitivity. Moreover, hard candy is high in sugar, leading to cavities and tooth decay if consumed frequently.
While all of these habits can cause damage to your teeth, the relative risks associated with each one may vary. However, chewing ice will likely cause the most immediate physical damage due to its hardness and cold temperature.
Breaking the Ice: Quitting the Ice-Chewing Habit
Breaking the ice-chewing habit is essential for maintaining good oral health. Here are some recommendations on how to quit the habit:
Understand and Acknowledge the Problem
Acknowledge that chewing ice is a problem. Understanding the potential damage it can cause will motivate you to stop.
Notice when and why you tend to chew ice. Is it a stress response? Do you do it when you’re bored? Identifying the triggers that lead you to munch on ice can help you find and fix the root cause of the habit.
Find Healthier Alternatives
Replace the ice-chewing habit with healthier alternatives. Chew sugar-free gum or munch on crunchy vegetables like carrots or cucumbers instead.
Sometimes, the desire to chew ice can be due to dehydration. Make sure you are drinking enough water throughout the day.
Seek Professional Help
If you struggle to quit alone, seek aid from a medical professional or therapist who may suggest alternatives to the destructive habit of ice-chewing.
Healthier Alternatives to Ice Chewing
Chewing ice can be particularly damaging to your teeth, but there are plenty of healthier alternatives that can satisfy your craving for a crunchy snack, such as:
Crunchy vegetables like carrots, cucumbers, and celery are great alternatives to ice. They are not only good for your teeth but also your overall health.
Apples are another healthy and crunchy alternative to ice. But remember to gargle your mouth with plain water after eating to remove any natural sugars and acid. Leaving these to proliferate may cause more damage than chewing ice.
Puffed Rice Snacks
Puffed rice snacks are another light, crunchy alternative that won’t harm your teeth.
Additional Dental Care Tips for Avid Ice Chewers
If you have been chewing ice or have other habits that could damage your teeth, taking extra care of your oral health is essential. Here are some tips:
Regular Dental Check-Ups
Make sure to visit your dentist regularly for check-ups and cleanings. Your dentist can help identify and address potential issues before they become more serious.
Use a Toothpaste for Sensitive Teeth
Chewing ice can lead to heightened tooth sensitivity, which can be painful. Using toothpaste formulated for sensitive teeth is ideal.
Daily flossing is critical to keeping your mouth clean and teeth strong, especially if you have habits that could damage your teeth.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What Happens To Your Teeth When You Chew Ice?
A: Excessively chewing ice can have adverse effects on your teeth. It can lead to enamel wear, as ice is rigid and can cause the microfractures on the surface of your teeth. Over time, these can lead to more cracks and increased tooth sensitivity. Aside from that, the freezing temperature of ice can cause your teeth to contract fast, which may lead to thermal stress and, in the long term, can result in microfractures.
Q: Is Chewing Ice a Bad Habit?
A: Experts consider excessive chewing ice a bad habit for oral health. Ice’s hardness and cold temperature can cause issues like enamel wear and increased sensitivity. Moreover, it can also lead to problems with your jaw. Constantly chewing on rigid substances like ice can lead to wear and tear in the jaw muscles and joints, potentially causing jaw pain or temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ).
Q: Are There Any Bad Long-Term Effects of Chewing Ice?
A: The long-term effects of chewing ice can be pretty severe. Continual cracking and grinding against the hard surface of ice can lead to the wearing down of enamel, which is the hard, protective surface of the tooth. And this can be problematic, considering enamel can’t regenerate. As a result, be ready to deal with cavities, increased tooth sensitivity, and even tooth loss.
Q: Is Excessive Chewing Ice Linked To Any Medical Conditions?
A: Those with iron deficiency anemia often develop excessive ice chewing as a bad habit. After all, this condition leads to insufficient red blood cells in the body, resulting in unusual cravings for non-nutritive substances like ice, medically referred to as pagophagia. However, not everyone who chews ice has anemia, but if you find yourself craving ice frequently, call your doctor.
Q: How Can I Break Off The Bad Habit of Chewing Ice?
A: You can start by identifying your triggers and substituting those with healthier options. If you don’t have any triggers, stay hydrated, as excessively chewing ice can signify dehydration. Finally, if none of these helped, seek professional medical help.
Is chewing ice bad for your teeth? The simple answer is yes and no. Excessively doing it combines the physical pressure and temperature changes associated with chewing ice, which can lead to enamel wear, microfractures, and tooth sensitivity. But if you only seldomly do it, it shouldn’t be harmful. Regardless, be mindful of your habits and their potential impact on dental health.
If you are experiencing any dental issues or are looking for professional advice, don’t hesitate to contact Dr. Mexico, a trusted dental clinic that provides comprehensive dental care services.