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Chewing Ice Can Damage Your Teeth (Learn Why)

Updated on July 18, 2022
Khushbu Gopalakrishnan Headshot
Written by Caroline Bonin
Medically Reviewed by Khushbu Gopalakrishnan

Key Takeaways

  • Chewing ice can damage your tooth enamel, make you vulnerable to cavities, and increase the likelihood of cracked teeth or fractures
  • The habit of craving and chewing ice is called pagophagia, and it is often associated with iron deficiency
  • You can break an ice chewing habit by avoiding ice, choosing healthy alternatives, and addressing the underlying issues
  • See your dentist about your habit if you experience teeth sensitivity, jaw pain, damage to dental restorations, and chipped or cracked teeth

Is Chewing Ice Bad For Your Teeth?

Yes, chewing ice is bad for your teeth. 

According to Dr. Khushbu Aggarwal, one of NewMouth’s in-house dentists, chewing even small pieces can weaken the protective layer of teeth (called enamel). This can leave teeth vulnerable to cavities and progressive fractures over time. It can also cause tooth sensitivity to hot and cold foods and drinks.

Why Do People Chew Ice?

Chewing ice falls under the broad medical term “pica,” which is craving or chewing substances that have no nutritional value, such as ice, paper, or glue. To be categorized as pica, the habit must continue for more than a month.1

Craving and chewing ice is referred to as pagophagia and is usually associated with a nutritional deficiency, such as iron. One study found that young women and blood donors of all genders are at a higher risk of developing pagophagia.2

People with pagophagia may experience the following symptoms in addition to craving ice:

  • Fatigue and dizziness
  • Headache
  • Pale or dry skin
  • Sore tongue
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Mood changes

Research shows that most people with both pagophagia and an iron deficiency will stop chewing on ice once their iron levels return to normal.3

Chewing on ice may also be a way for some people to reduce anxiety. In some cases, it could be related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or dehydration.

Dangers of Chewing Ice

Chewing ice can weaken or fracture your tooth enamel. 

According to Dr. Aggarwal, additional dangers of chewing ice include:

  • Broken dental restorations
  • Weakened or fractured enamel
  • Increased sensitivity
  • Gum trauma
  • Higher risk of developing cavities
  • Exacerbation of TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorders
  • Choking risk

If you find that you crave ice and chew it for longer than a month, you may have pagophagia. You will need to break the habit to avoid these oral health issues.

How to Break the Habit

If you suspect you have pagophagia, the first step is to seek professional advice from your doctor. They will run labs to check for nutritional deficiencies, especially iron deficiency. An iron supplement may help curb your cravings if you have a deficiency. 

Dr. Aggarwal also recommends the following to help break an ice chewing habit:

  • Avoid ice – avoid drinking beverages with ice and turn off your ice maker at home. You can also order drinks without ice when you’re dining out.
  • Try a fidget spinner – if chewing on ice is a nervous habit, a substitution such as a fidget spinner or fidget spinner ring may help. 
  • Let the ice melt – holding ice in your mouth without chewing it and allowing it to melt can give you the same satisfaction.
  • Use non-chewable ice – if you prefer having ice in your drinks, use plastic ice cubes instead. 

Alternatives to Chewing Ice

Swapping ice for another alternative to chew on can also be a helpful strategy for breaking the habit. A few other options to try include:

  • Sugar-free gum (if you don’t have jaw issues)
  • Other crunchy foods, such as carrots, celery, apple slices, or other crisp fruits
  • Smoothies with frozen fruits  

Crunchy, healthy snacks are a great alternative because they have nutritional benefits you won’t get from chewing ice.

When to See a Dentist

According to Dr. Aggarwal, it may be time to see a dentist about compulsive ice chewing if you notice any of the following signs:

  • Sensitivity in the teeth or gum tissues
  • Chipped or cracked teeth 
  • Damage to dental restorations or existing dental work
  • Pain in the jaw joint

Summary

Chewing ice is bad for your teeth. It can damage your enamel, cause cavities, and make you more likely to fracture or crack your teeth. Also known as pagophagia, it is correlated with an iron deficiency and is frequently resolved with treatment. 

Using various strategies, including chewing healthy foods instead, you can break an ice chewing habit. Always visit a medical provider if you are concerned about your behaviors or symptoms.

Last updated on July 18, 2022
3 Sources Cited
Last updated on July 18, 2022
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
  1. Bhatia, M.S. and Kaur, N. “Pagophagia – A Common but Rarely Reported Form of Pica.” Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, National Library of Medicine, 12 Jan. 2014
  2. Rabel, A. et al. “Ask about ice, then consider iron.” Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, National Library of Medicine, 05 May 2015
  3. Reynolds, R. et al. “Pagophagia and Iron Deficiency Anemia.” Annals of Internal Medicine, American College of Physicians, 1 Sept. 1968
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