- Chewing ice is bad for your teeth because it can damage your tooth enamel, or the protective layer that shields your teeth from decay.
- You especially shouldn’t chew ice if you have fillings, braces, or other dental restoration work, as it can cause more damage and be expensive to fix.
- You may want to find another way to replace the sensation of chewing ice, or only chew softer, crushed ice if you can’t break the habit altogether.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
If you find yourself craving ice â€” and specifically wanting to crunch it with your teeth â€” then you’re not alone.
“I have many patients that chew ice on a daily basis, which they admit to me as if it’s something terrible during their appointments,” says Mark Burhenne, DDS, founder of Ask the Dentist. “It’s often a ‘guilty pleasure’ of sorts.”
In fact, chewing ice is one of the worst habits that can damage teeth, according to the American Dental Association. Here’s how it can harm your pearly whites.
Why eating ice is bad for you
Like chewing on any hard food, eating ice leaves your teeth vulnerable to damage. As refreshing as the habit might be, there are three major reasons why ice chewers should consider quitting:
1. It can ruin tooth enamel. Whenever you chew ice, you risk damaging or weakening tooth enamel â€” the hard, protective coating that protects the delicate, inner areas of your teeth.
“If your tooth enamel were to be damaged, your teeth and entire oral hygiene, including gums, would then be susceptible and even prone to more bacterial infections and diseases,” says Shahrooz Yazdani, DDS, from Yazdani Family Dentistry.
The American Dental Association explains that when you force two extremely hard surfaces together, one is going to break. Most of the time it’s the ice that breaks, but occasionally it’s the tooth that bears the brunt of the damage.
2. It can lead to chipped teeth. Beyond weakening tooth enamel, there’s always the possibility of fracturing a tooth, according to John Grbic, DMD, Professor of Dental Medicine at Columbia University Medical Centre.
“It’s not uncommon,” he says. “Every week we see at least one patient who has fractured their tooth because they ate an unpopped popcorn kernel, hard candy, or ice.”
3. It can damage your gums. Chewing ice can also put pressure on your gums, which can lead to gum recession. Gum recession occurs when gum tissue is eroded from genetics, gum disease, or a traumatic injury (such as prolonged injury).
When your gums recede, the root of your tooth (aka what anchors your tooth to your mouth), is exposed. This part of your tooth is more sensitive and so if you have gum recession your teeth may become more sensitive which can make eating cold and hot foods uncomfortable.
Important: If you have existing dental work, you should never eat ice. Grbic says chewing ice can damage restoration work, like fillings, braces, crowns, and veneers â€” which can be costly to fix or replace.
Are there any healthy alternatives?
If it’s the cold icy sensation you crave, Grbic recommends simply letting it melt in your mouth instead of crunching on it.
Unfortunately, if it’s crunching that you desire, you’re going to struggle to find a healthy alternative. Anything as hard as ice will be too hard on your teeth, and Grbic warns against reaching for hardy candy in place of ice.
Burhenne recommends crushed ice, which is much softer. Though chewing ice in any capacity could harm your teeth, crushed ice could minimise the damage done than bigger cubes.
If you can’t replace your habit, you could disrupt it. For example, the American Dental Association suggests drinking from straws as a means of avoiding thoughtless chewing on ice â€” or switching to cold drinks without ice.
Why do you crave chewing ice?
You might benefit from exploring what could be causing your ice-chewing cravings.
Some researchers have linked the craving to chew ice to iron deficiency anemia, a condition that can lead to fatigue and unusual tiredness. The theory stands that compulsive ice chewing makes people deficient in iron more alert and awake, but more research is needed.
Pregnant women are at a greater risk of developing anemia, which may result in a craving to chew ice.
In some cases, chewing ice may be tied to compulsive behaviour (i.e. an intense urge or impulse to engage in an activity that interrupt daily life), nervousness, stress, or emotional distress. If you suspect this might be the case, you may want to consult with a mental health professional about a condition called PICA.
Terms to know:
is a term used by medical professionals to characterise the compulsive eating or chewing of items that have no nutritional value. Pagophagia â€” the medical term used specifically to describe the craving to chew ice â€” is one form of pica.
Dentists strongly advise against chewing ice, as it can damage your teeth, gums, and any dental work you may have had done, resulting in costly medical bills. You may crave ice due to an iron deficiency or you may have PICA, a mental health condition characterised by severe compulsion.
If you can’t give up chewing ice, try chewing soft ice, picking a non-detrimental replacement, or seek a mental health professional. If you think you may have damaged your teeth, see a dentist immediately. They may recommend a veneer or crown to repair cracked or eroded enamel.
Related stories from Health Reference:
- 8 tips to help you stop grinding your teeth
- Does baking soda whiten teeth? It can, but toothpaste is a better option â€” here’s why
- How to whiten your teeth naturally, with at-home methods
- 10 signs your teeth aren’t as healthy as you think they are
- 13 things you do every day that can ruin your teeth