Curious Kids is a series for children of all ages. If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, send it to email@example.com.
Is chewing on ice cubes bad for your teeth? – Gabriela G., age 15, Arlington, Virginia
As a pediatric dentist, I sometimes get questions from parents and patients about chewing ice. They generally want to know why some people enjoy doing it and whether it can harm teeth.
Ice chewing or crunching may bother those seated around the table, but it’s a soothing activity, especially for someone experiencing dry mouth.
It may also help relieve stress or aid with relaxation. In some cases, people may chew ice to satisfy hunger cravings because it can mimic the sensation of eating without ingesting calories.
For others, chomping on ice cubes may simply be a habit.
Why it’s dangerous
No matter the cause, it’s a habit worth breaking. Chewing ice is bad for your oral health, and if you’re unlucky, it may eventually cost you or your parents an expensive trip to the dentist or orthodontist.
Chewing ice could lead to cracks in enamel, which can lead to increased sensitivity to hot and cold foods and drinks.
If you break or fracture a tooth by chewing ice, you might get a cavity – a hole – in that tooth. That’s because acids produced by bacteria can penetrate the softer layer of the tooth, the dentin, much more easily and cause tooth decay.
If you already have fillings, crowns or veneers, or if you wear braces, use a retainer or have expanders, chewing ice makes you particularly vulnerable to tooth damage.
Depending on the severity of the problem, the repair may require anything from a simple filling to a root canal – a more serious procedure requiring anesthesia.
How to stop
There are several ways to kick this habit.
Melt cubes in your mouth: Instead of crunching ice cubes, try holding them in your mouth and letting them melt. The satisfying cool sensation and refreshment will last longer. And it won’t damage your teeth or gums.
Stop consuming ice: You can also skip the ice altogether. If it’s not in your glass, there’s no temptation. In addition to preventing damage to your teeth, you may also avoid the bacteria that can linger in icemakers.
Consider softer alternatives: Replacing regular cubes with softer types of ice, such as shaved ice, may help. Try to limit or avoid flavored soft ices, however, because they have lots of sugar, which is bad for your teeth.
Chomp on something healthier: Eating raw carrots, sliced apples or other crisp fruits and vegetables could help. Those foods can satisfy the craving to crunch, while stimulating the flow of saliva, which protects your mouth. The fibrous material may also help keep your teeth clean.
In some cases, chewing or crunching ice may result from an iron deficiency – a condition called pagophagia – although the reason for this isn’t clear.
When none of the above helps someone stop chewing on ice, dietary changes or an iron supplement could be required. A doctor’s appointment might be in order.
Watch out for your mouth
Taking good care of your teeth is important, especially by the time you’re about 12 years old. Most people have lost all their baby teeth by then.
Your permanent pearly whites can last for the rest of your life, especially if you brush twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste.
And, if you’re an ice chewer, try out the alternatives I’ve suggested to see if they do the trick.
Hello, curious kids! Do you have a question you’d like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to CuriousKidsUS@theconversation.com. Please tell us your name, age and the city where you live.
And since curiosity has no age limit – adults, let us know what you’re wondering, too. We won’t be able to answer every question, but we will do our best.
Matthew Cooke does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.