Some have to have their coffee in the morning, others prefer sodas, and for a select group of people, the day can’t begin without a large cup full of ice. Whether you yourself are a regular ice chewer or whether it’s someone you know, you’ve likely witnessed someone chomping on frozen cubes throughout the day. Many people do it for the satisfying crunch, or as a residual childhood habit, or even as a way to stave off other cravings. Whatever the reason, numerous individuals are drawn to eating ice, but you might find yourself wondering just how bad of a habit it really is.
In general, the consumption of ice is fine and can be hydrating when melted, but the act of chewing the hard frozen chunks can cause damage to the teeth and gums. We consulted dentist Kevin Sands, DDS, and Stéphanie and Richard Palacci, founders of oral care brand Lebon, to find out more about how it can affect your health. What we discovered? There might actually be an underlying reason for why you do it. Keep reading to find out what you should know before picking up that cup of ice.
The Causes and Effects of Chewing Ice
Pagophagia, or the compulsion to chew ice, is a relatively common phenomenon, albeit one that's not so commonly reported. According to Sands, the question of whether it's bad to eat ice isn't as clear-cut as you may think. "It depends on what you mean by 'eating,'" says Sands. "Chewing and crunching on ice is really bad for your teeth. It can wear the enamel over time or even crack a tooth." And not to be the bearer of bad news, but a cracked tooth could require a crown, a filling, or even a root canal to be fixed. And at the very least, a worn-down enamel could heighten your sensitivity to the extremely cold temperate of ice. In other words, chewing the frozen cubes might not be so soothing anymore.
Meet the Expert
Kevin Sands, DDS, is a Beverly Hills-based dentist whose clientele includes Emma Stone and Amber Rose.
What can be a larger concern is that the craving can potentially indicate greater factors that cause the pagophagia. For instance, this habitual ice eating can possibly be a sign of stress, according to the Mayo Clinic. And according to some studies, iron deficiency can contribute to the desire to chew ice. In fact, according to another study, if you have iron-deficiency anemia, you might actually find that the act of chewing ice helps to boost your mental alertness, which could be the reason why you might feel like you can't function or focus without a cup of ice. One study shows pica cravings (the tendency to eat items that aren't food) also occur in some women who are pregnant and expecting, one example of which being the compulsion to chew ice.
All that to say there is a wide variety of factors that can contribute to the desire to eat ice. So while the act of consuming ice isn't harmful in and of itself, consult your physician to see if you should up your iron intake or find out more about what steps you can take to further pinpoint the source of your pagophagia.
How to Safely Eat Ice
On the other hand, Sands says allowing ice to melt in your mouth isn't harmful to teeth and might actually be a good way to stay hydrated. If your ice craving is about temperature, try drinking ice water through a straw or a narrow-necked water bottle so you're less tempted to chomp on the ice. If it's about the texture, stock crunchy snacks as a substitute for ice. Carrots and broccoli spears are a satisfying but tooth-friendly alternative.
A worn-down enamel from chewing ice can contribute to cavities down the line, so your oral care is important in maintaining healthy teeth. Be sure to use a toothpaste that supports enamel strength to prevent cavities and possibly fend off tooth sensitivity. Lebon's Le White Toothpaste, for example, contains green tea as a natural ingredient to strengthen teeth. "There are several treatments on the market for sensitive teeth but none are as long-lasting as green tea," according to Stéphanie and Richard Palacci, founders of Lebon.
Meet the Expert
Stéphanie and Richard Palacci are the founders of the French oral care brand Lebon, which makes luxury vegan products.
"Green tea is an antioxidant promoting healthier, stronger teeth that help prevent bacteria that cause tooth decay and other periodontal diseases, as well as bone resorption. Controlling bacteria and lowering the acidity level, green tea can also play a key part in preventing cavities," they add.
The Final Takeaway
The bottom line: It's not bad to eat ice if you're sucking on it or allowing it to melt, but it is bad to eat ice if you're chewing or breaking it with your teeth. The latter habit can lead to cracked teeth or injured gums. Pagophagia can also be the result of many different factors, so it's best to seek the advice of your doctor to find the source of what's causing your urge to chew.
Hunt MG, Belfer S, Atuahene B. Pagophagia improves neuropsychological processing speed in iron-deficiency anemia. Med Hypotheses. 2014;83(4):473‐476. doi:10.1016/j.mehy.2014.07.016
Borgna-Pignatti C, Zanella S. Pica as a manifestation of iron deficiency. Expert Rev Hematol. 2016;9(11):1075-1080. doi:10.1080/17474086.2016.1245136
Rabel A, Leitman SF, Miller JL. Ask about ice, then consider iron. J Am Assoc Nurse Pract. 2016;28(2):116-120. doi:10.1002/2327-6924.12268