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Is Chewing Ice Bad for Your Teeth?

6/16/21

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chewing ice teeth pain

Whether it’s the satisfying crunch of eating ice from the bottom of your cup or snow cones in the summertime, you might not think twice about chewing ice. But if you’ve ever found yourself wondering, “Is chewing ice bad for my teeth?,” the answer is yes. When it comes to your oral health, chewing ice can be damaging to your teeth and gums for a number of reasons. 

Chewing ice can cause teeth to break, gum damage, and a variety of other issues. Because our teeth are one of our lifelong investments, it’s important to minimize external factors that can harm the bright smiles we work hard to achieve and lead to expensive dental bills. 

To help answer your questions about why chewing ice is bad for your teeth, we dive into the dangers of chewing ice and offer ice swaps you can make to ditch ice chewing for good. 

Why Is Chewing Ice Bad for Your Teeth?

While you may think that chewing ice on occasion is a harmless guilty pleasure, it only takes one instance to crack or chip a tooth or damage dental work such as fillings and crowns. According to the American Dental Association, ice is one of the top nine worst things to chew for your teeth health. 

The reason why ice is bad for your teeth is that when you chew ice, your teeth are quickly cooling and then heating up repeatedly. This causes your teeth enamel to expand and contract, which can lead to micro-fractures forming on the surface of your teeth. 

“As you compress firmly on an ice cube, the difference in temperature causes the crystallized enamel to expand slightly,” said Dr. Dain Paxton, DMD, MS. “Once the ice is gone (swallowed) the temperature rises again, and the tension created by the expansion releases. This tension and release is exacerbated by the jaw force crushing the ice. The development of microfractures often form as a result of this process, and then progress to larger, more problematic fractures.”

Enamel is the hard outermost layer of your teeth that protects the inner layers of your teeth (including nerves and blood vessels) from damage. The more that enamel wears down and experiences fracturing, the more likely you are to experience tooth damage, sensitivity, and cavities

Side Effects of Chewing Ice

Mindless ice chewing can result in costly dental bills if you happen to chip or break a tooth or damage existing dental work. Here are a few more side effects of eating ice that might make you rethink your ice-chewing habit. 

Wears Down Enamel

The most obvious side effect of ice chewing is the wearing down of your tooth’s enamel. The more your enamel is worn down, the more susceptible your teeth are to forming cavities, experiencing breakage, and experiencing other dental concerns. 

Ruins Fillings

If you have fillings, crowns, or any other dental work in your mouth, chewing ice can cause serious damage. The materials used for these different dental procedures will expand and contract similar to your teeth enamel, but at different speeds. This can cause dental work to break away from your teeth or wear them down over time. 

Damages Gums

Sharp edges of ice can also pierce your gums, causing inflammation and bleeding. The mouth is known for healing itself quickly, but any time you experience a cut in your mouth, you risk an infection in that area. 

Cracks Teeth

While teeth are the strongest substance in a human body, that’s not to say they’re invincible. As your teeth experience enamel erosion that can be caused by a variety of factors, this weakens your teeth and makes them more susceptible to breaking or cracking when you bite down on hard substances like ice. 

Increases Sensitivity 

If you’ve ever experienced that twinge of icy cold pain when you eat ice cream, then you know that tooth sensitivity can be painful. That’s because repeated exposure to extreme temperature changes — like chewing ice — damages the nerves inside your teeth. 

Causes Jaw Soreness and Headaches 

Chewing on ice can also create several other kinds or irritations to your body. Biting down and using your teeth to grind ice can cause headaches or soreness in the jaw. Luckily, there are several exercises you do to help ease jaw tension, similar to what you might experience with teeth grinding

side effects of chewing ice

Underlying Conditions That Spur Ice Cravings

While many of us decide to munch on ice just because it’s at the bottom of our cup, there are other medical conditions that can lead a person to crave ice. If you’re experiencing excessive ice cravings, talk with your dentist or doctor to see if you have one of these underlying conditions. 

Pica 

Pica is a psychological disorder that causes cravings for substances that lack nutritional value. There are several different subcategories of pica, but pagophagia is the compulsive consumption of ice. These unusual cravings may be a sign that your body is trying to replenish nutrients it’s lacking, or it may be associated with a mental health condition such as obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Iron Deficiency

Another common cause of ice cravings is an iron deficiency. The Mayo Clinic cites at least one study that found ice chewing might increase alertness in people with iron deficiency anemia. If you experience anemia and frequently crave ice, it might be worth talking with your doctor.

How To Curb Your Ice-Chewing Habit

Now that you know how harmful it can be to chew ice, we’d like to offer up some alternatives that involve some of the satisfying elements of ice chewing without the negative side effects.

  1. Find a crunchy alternative – If the crunch is what you love about ice chewing, then there are a variety of other, more nutritious and less damaging foods to consider. Try snacking on cucumbers, apple slices, or carrots to satisfy that crunch craving. 
  2. Let the ice melt in your mouth – While this may be hard to do, letting the ice melt in your mouth will still allow you to experience the icy sensation without causing damage to your teeth. 
  3. Skip ice in your beverages – If having ice in your drink is too tempting, forgo the ice entirely. Room temperature water has also been shown to aid with digestion, so you’d be doing your body a favor by skipping ice. 
  4. Chew gum – If chewing ice is a mindless activity you do while eating out at restaurants or on car drives, opt for chewing gum instead. This will keep your mouth occupied while also zapping bad breath. 

4 ways to kick ice chewing habit

Bottom Line: Yes, Ice Is Bad for Your Teeth

Ice can cause serious damage to your oral health that can lead to hefty dental bills and mouth pain. To avoid damaging the smile you’ve worked hard to perfect, put a stop to your ice chewing.