Is it emotional eating? Pagophagia? Anemia? Ice chewing and its effect on oral health

Occasionally chewing ice is natural on a hot day when you just need that little bit more water to quench your thirst and cool you down. But what if it is a habit?  What if you crave ice throughout the day, and chew it consistently for more than a month?

What is Compulsive Ice Chewing and What Causes It?

Compulsive ice chewing is called Pagophagia, and it can have long lasting effects on your oral health.  Dr. Kamryn Eddy of the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and others describe the compulsive ingesting of ice as an eating disorder.  In general, this is referred to as pica, a compulsion to eat substances that have no nutritional value such as paper, sand, plastics, and of course ice.

There are not only psychological reasons for excessive ice chewing, but surprisingly also nutritional causes as well.  Dr. Steven Gans, Assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and psychiatrist at McLean Hospital in Belmont Massachusetts, reviewed and certified an article by Sarah Vanbuskirk of Verywell Mind titled “What Does It Mean If You Are Craving Ice?.”  In this article, they state that iron deficiency can also cause people to chew ice compulsively.  Vanbuskirk admits there is no true understanding as to why this is the case, but there is a clear connection.

Vanbuskirk also states other causes such as autism, dementia, intellectual disabilities, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and schizophrenia.

What are the Effects of Excessive Ice Chewing?

Unlike most of the substances in which people with a pica disorder ingest, ice of course is not harmful in regard to weight gain, being poisonous, or harmful to your internal organs. Instead, excessive ice chewing can do significant damage to one’s teeth.

Enamel does not consist of living cells, so it cannot restore itself over time.  Excessive chewing on hard substances such as ice can, and likely will, wear away the enamel of your teeth, eventually exposing the dentin beneath.  This will lead to tooth sensitivity to cold and hot substances you ingest and could cause bad bacteria to slowly work its way into the tooth causing decay.

In some cases, ice chewing will also chip or crack teeth.  This would have an effect of course on your smile, but will also open your teeth up to further decay.

Riverwalk Dental highly recommends your first step, if you believe you are suffering from pagophagia, is to visit our office so we may examine your teeth for any damage and help you understand how you can remineralize any damaged teeth going forward if needed.

What Can be Done to Address Ice Chewing?

The first recommended step to addressing pagophagia is to ask a medical professional to test your blood to see if you are suffering from anemia.  If this is the case, iron supplements and eating iron-rich foods is a quick and easy solution.

Yet the habit may still linger if you have chewed ice for a long time, and breaking the habit may be a challenge. In a Live95.9 article titled “Why Some Massachusetts Residents Can’t Stop Chewing Ice” the author describes a circumstance in which a pregnant woman had severe ice cravings.  Although she eventually had her blood tested for an iron deficiency and began a regiment of iron supplements, her ice cravings did not go away completely.

The psychological addiction to ice chewing can be intense.  In the aforementioned article by Vanbuskirk of Verywell Mind, she also recommends cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and healthier stress management techniques to help alleviate or even address these psychological challenges.

At Riverwalk Dental we are committed to your oral health.  Visit us anytime if you feel that any damage could be done to your dental work.  We want you to have the best and healthiest smile you can achieve.

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