Lots of habits damage your teeth: eating food with sugar or acid wears down teeth, while neglecting your teeth-brushing regimen increases risk of cavities. However, many unexpected habits cause just as much (if not more) damage than a sugary diet or poor dental hygiene.
In fact, many people use their teeth for potentially dangerous tasks: taking the caps off bottles, opening plastic bags, or biting through clothing tags. You may chew on the end of your pen or grind your teeth while you sleep. Chewing anything other than food could potentially fracture teeth, but chewing ice damages your teeth more quickly than any other chewing habit.
Why Shouldn’t You Chew on Ice?
This seemingly harmless habit causes a lot of dental problems. When you chew ice, you create a cycle where your teeth quickly cool down and heat up over and over. This makes your enamel expand and contract, which nearly always leads to micro fractures forming in the surface of your teeth.
Those micro fractures expand every time you chew ice, and the harder and more frequently you chew, the faster they spread.
Eventually, those micro fractures will turn into more extensive breaks, leading to sensitivity, pain, and infections inside your tooth.
The ice’s pressure also makes your enamel wear down over time, exposing the inner layers of your teeth. You may experience some difficulty chewing as the sharper edges of your teeth become dull.
If you have fillings, crowns, or any other dental prostheses in your mouth, chewing ice can cause even more serious problems.
The synthetic materials expand and contract at different speeds than your enamel, so chewing ice could make the prosthesis break away from your teeth.
Chewing on ice also damages your gums by increasing the risk of puncturing. Ice sometimes has sharp edges, and you could accidentally cut your gums. Your mouth heals quickly, but you always risk infection when you have a cut.
Why Do You Chew on Ice?
If you constantly chew on ice, it might not be your fault. Lots of people develop a number of conditions that make them crave ice:
People with this condition want to eat all kinds of unnatural things, including ice, dirt, rocks, clay, chalk, paint, erasers, and even needles. They can’t control this craving, so they chew on these hard, inedible items until they can ingest them. This condition damages their teeth and often leads to more extreme health problems, especially if they eat paint or needles.
Burning Mouth Syndrome
Some people experience sensitivity or a burning sensation in their mouths, so they eat ice to give themselves a constant source of coolness and refreshment. These people also have dry mouths most of the time, and normal foods may taste strange to them. Ice gives them an escape.
Iron Deficiency Anemia
When you have anemia, you don’t have enough iron and oxygen in your blood, or you don’t have enough red blood cells to transport those chemicals all over your body. You eat ice to try and make up for this deficit, often because hard water contains iron; your body knows it can get more iron this way.
Calcium or Magnesium Deficiency
Hard water contains calcium and magnesium, so you may crave ice if you have a deficiency of either of these nutrients.
How Do You Beat the Craving?
To save your teeth from the dangers of chewing ice, first consult your doctor. He or she will tell you if you have a nutrient deficiency. Some people who chew ice have serious anemia and may need blood transfusions, so you’ll want to check that with your doctor as well.
These other strategies may help you beat the habit, too:
• Start taking iron, calcium, and magnesium supplements. If you have a deficiency, the supplements should make your cravings go away.
• Chew sugar-free gum. Gum isn’t hard on your teeth, and it should help you break the habit of chewing on other things, especially if you chew on ice because you’re stressed or bored.
• Take away the temptation. Avoid putting ice in your drinks and stop making ice in your ice tray. If you don’t have access to the ice, you won’t chew it.
• Try other forms of stress relief. If you chew ice to relieve stress, you might want to find a healthier outlet. Try stress balls, yoga, nature walks, or other solutions instead.
Ice chewing may be a simple habit, and these strategies can help. However, cravings for ice could be indicative of a greater problem, so it’s important to seek professional advice first.
What If I Damaged My Teeth Already?
If your teeth are already damaged, your dentist will know exactly what to do to help. Depending on the extent of the damage, your dentist may prescribe a number of different treatments, including crowns or veneers. Call your dentist to learn more today!