Ever get to that point when your soda or iced coffee is gone and you find yourself mindlessly chewing on the ice left in the cup? Or have you ever gone to a specific restaurant or gas station because you know they serve “chewy ice?” Chewing on ice is a common habit, one that passes time, curbs hunger (temporarily) and, quite literally, gives you something to chew on. You likely already know someone who chews ice — in fact, it might even be you!
Those addicted to ice chewing may spend entire days with ice in their mouths, get up in the middle of the night and head to the freezer for ice and maybe even purchase special ice trays so their vice is allays “just right.”
I gotta be addicted to chewing ice. No way I should be chewing ice in the cold. Smh
— Gabrielle F $ S ❤ (@schare_is) January 13, 2015
What an ice-chewing habit really means
Why are you really chewing on ice? Often, the desire to chew ice stems from an actual physical condition and could be a symptom of a deficiency within the body. The scientific name for an ice-chewing habit it pagophagia, also known as pica.
More about pica
Pica doesn’t just have to do with chewing ice. People with this condition actually crave non-nutritional foods (like ice or corn starch) or non-foods. Some people report cravings to eat clay, dirt or even the paint off the walls. Luckily, most don’t act on these non-food cravings. Some people with pica have the compulsive need to chew on ice, and this can be the calling card of anemia or iron deficiency. Those affected by pica tend to be the same demographic in which iron deficiency commonly occurs. These include young children — particularly those who are not getting proper nutrition, pregnant women and the elderly. Because it is linked to iron deficiency, pica is also associated with menstruating women.
Ice chewing and pregnancy
Ice chewing is also common during pregnancy. This is because pregnancy often causes or exacerbates iron deficiency and anemia, as well as the fact that pregnancy also creates and enhances certain habits or cravings.
Other reasons for chewing
While ice chewing is the common result of iron deficiency, it can also simply be a habit. Chewing ice can be a refreshing activity for people with chronic dry mouths, or it could be a way to relax, relieve stress or get the satisfaction of “eating” without actually taking in any calories.
Just got put on an “ice chewing curfew” by my parents & idk how I’m expected to live this life for two more weeks — Elizabeth Racine (@e_racine123) January 5, 2015
What ice chewing means for your teeth
If you thought ice chewing was an innocent habit, however, you’re wrong. Chewing on ice can have extremely negative effects on your pearly whites. Depending on the severity of your habit, this ice-cold vice could:
- Crack teeth: Depending on the hardness of the ice you chew, this habit could lead to cracks in your teeth — which could lead to the need for some serious dental work. Depending on the severity of the crack, you might require bonding, crowns, fillings or even root canals to repair the tooth.
- Break down enamel: Chewing ice can also wear down the enamel of your teeth. This can be a serious issue because, unlike your bones or other tissues, your enamel does not repair itself.
- Create hot/cold sensitivity: All that cold ice could make your teeth much more sensitive to hot and cold temperatures.
How you can stop chewing ice
If you’re an ice chewer, you can conquer the compulsion to chew. Since ice chewing is often the result of iron deficiency or anemia, you should talk to your doctor about this possibility. Often, ice chewers find that treating anemia properly removes the craving for ice completely.
Iron deficiency is usually quite easy to treat. Taking an iron supplement, available over the counter or from your doctor, and eating more iron-rich foods can help you get back on track. These foods include red meat, chicken, dark green vegetables, dried fruits, beans and peas.
Even if you’re getting the proper amount of iron in your diet, you may not be absorbing it. Certain foods can help you more readily absorb the iron your taking in. So load up on broccoli, grapefruit, peppers, strawberries, tomatoes, melons and kiwis.
Whether you’re pregnant, iron deficient or anemic, take a stand for your teeth. Don’t let cold ice crack your teeth and wear down your enamel. A beautiful, healthy set of teeth is always something to smile about – and that’s the cold hard truth.