Chances are that you’ve crunched your way happily through an ice cube or two on occasion. Those little melted chips of frozen delight that lurk at the bottom of a tall glass of your favorite beverage can be hard to resist.
And for some of us, eating ice covered with a flavored syrup (Shave Ice in Hawaii, Italian Ice in New York City, Water Ice in Philly, Raspa in Texas, Granita to the Sicilians among us, Slushies, Snow Cones and Snowballs to everyone else), is an unmissable summer tradition. Summer without a damp white paper cup of lemon ice is just a lost season of sweaty sadness.
But if you were addicted to ice, you’d be chomping your way through a few bags of ice daily, year round.
Dedicated ice chewers crave ice like a smoker needs a cigarette. They have favorite places to buy ice (Sonic ice seems to be the Internet’s ice-chewing population’s #1 choice). They have websites devoted to documenting their frosty obsession. The truly hardcore may even purchase snow-cone machines for home use, or find themselves “scraping buildup off freezer walls for a fix.”
But, OK, to each their own, right? And chewing ice seems like it would be a pretty harmless activity, apart from annoying others with the incessant crunching. But the sad truth is that gnawing on cubes can be an indicator of serious health condition, and can ruin your teeth and hurt your gums.
Read on to find out how you can break the habit and save your smile from the frigid embrace of your icy little overlords.
“Pica" is the medical term for craving and chewing on items that have little or no nutritional value - such as ice, dirt, clay, chalk, paper, paint, sand and rocks. Medical experts have documented the condition over thousands of years. Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates of Kos wrote about pregnant women’s “desire to eat earth or charcoal” back in the 5th century B.C. A 6th century A.D. medical textbook describes patients craving overly spicy or salty foods, as well as dirt, eggshells and ashes.
Chewing on ice is the most common form of pica and is called pagophagia. Compulsive ice chewing is increasingly considered to be a symptom of anemia, particularly iron deficiency anemia (there are more than 400 types of anemia).
Medical science has not yet 100% sure why people with anemia seem compelled to chew ice but suspect the coolness of the crunchy cubes may soothe the oral inflammations often caused by iron deficiencies.
A recent study indicates that, for those with insufficient iron, eating ice acts like a cup of strong coffee. Anemics often report feeling fatigued and foggy-brained due to their bodies inability to produce enough oxygen-carrying hemoglobin.
Our bodies have a hardwired response to being submerged in cold water. Our heart rates slow, the blood vessels in our legs and arms constrict. The idea is to keep the brain fed with oxygen, along with protecting the body’s other core functions. Researchers think that the cold jolt provided by chewing ide might push better-oxygenated blood to the brain, which would help people with anemia feel awake and focused. Sipping on ice water does not produce the exact same perky feeling.
Other reasons to chew ice include relief for a dry mouth, quitting cigarettes, stress relief, boredom or an attempt to cut back on food consumption in order to lose weight.
Ice munching won’t destroy your health like other addictions will. But the dental damage that comes from chewing on ice often include cracked and chipped teeth, damage to tooth enamel, problems with existing dental work such as fillings and crowns, and sore jaw muscles.
You may also find your teeth become extremely sensitive to hot and cold drinks and foods, and are more prone to cavities.
Get a physical check up to see if you have anemia or another issue that is causing you to crave ice. Virtually every ice-addicted anemic reports that their craving to chew cubes is gone when they get proper treatment for their medical condition.
If you’ve opted to chew on ice due to dry mouth problems or kicking the tobacco habit, try switching to cold drinks and/or popsicles ahead. To avoid weight gain and cavities, look for unsweetened popsicles … you can even make your own with a tiny bit of fruit juice for taste and frozen water.
If all else fails, or you don’t want to quit your frosty fun habit, you might consider switching to slush. If you must chew ice, you’re likely to cause the least damage by sticking with finely shaved or semi-melted slivers of ice rather than cubes or chunks.
Dental care is essential to reduce and repair the damage that can be caused by chewing ice. If you’ve been putting off seeing a dentist due to cost, you’ll be happy to know that their affordable alternative to paying out of pocket and pricey dental insurance: a dental savings plan from DentalPlans.com. Members save 10-60% on dental procedures – from emergency care to check-ups, root canals and crowns, fixes for chipped teeth and cavities, even orthodontia.