Is Chewing Ice Bad for Your Teeth?

The Hard Facts About Ice

April 25, 2024 Written By: Joyce Kahng, DDS

Chewing ice might seem like a harmless way to cool down or pass the time. However, that seemingly innocent crunch could spell trouble for your teeth. The frigid temperatures and hard texture can wreak havoc on your smile, causing problems beyond a little sensitivity.

Below is helpful information on why chewing ice is a bad habit you need to break and how it can harm both your teeth and your wallet in the long run.

The Hard Facts About Ice

While your teeth are built to handle chewing a variety of foods, ice puts them to the test. Ice is a surprisingly hard substance, and the force of biting down on a cube can chip or crack your teeth, particularly if you have weakened enamel or existing fillings. These fractures aren’t always immediately painful but can worsen over time, potentially requiring fillings or other treatments to restore strength. Additionally, the extreme cold of ice can cause microscopic cracks in your tooth enamel—the protective outer layer. With repeated crunching, the enamel weakens, opening the door to sensitivity, cavities, and a greater risk of breakage. Ice’s texture can even trick your nerves, making it harder to identify when you bite into something that could cause a more significant break.

Problems Beyond the Crunch

The damage from chewing ice doesn’t stop at chipped teeth. Here are other potential consequences of this habit:

  • Damage to Dental Work: If you have fillings, crowns, braces, or other dental restorations, you’re at higher risk. Chewing ice can knock fillings loose, fracture crowns, or even damage orthodontic appliances. This means unexpected trips to the dentist and additional treatment costs.
  • Jaw pain and TMJ disorders: The repetitive motion of crunching ice puts excessive strain on your jaw muscles and joints. This can lead to persistent jaw pain or tenderness, clicking, and even contribute to temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), which can cause headaches, facial pain, and difficulty eating.
  • Complicating Hidden Issues: The pain from chewing ice can temporarily mask signs of an existing tooth problem, like a cavity or sensitivity from an old filling. This delays getting the issue addressed early on, potentially leading to deeper damage, root canal treatment, or even tooth loss.

What Else You Shouldn’t Chew

Ice isn’t the only culprit when it comes to tooth damage. Here are some other common things you should avoid chewing:

  • Hard Candies: Jawbreakers, lollipops, and other hard sweets are like tiny hammers for your teeth. On top of potential chips and cracks, they bathe your teeth in sugar for extended periods, which bacteria loves.
  • Pens, Pencils, Nails: This habit not only puts undue wear and tear on your teeth but can also introduce unwanted bacteria into your mouth.
  • Other Non-Food Items: The general rule: if it’s not meant to go in your mouth, don’t chew it! Bottle caps, bobby pins, toys, or other random objects can all wreak havoc on your smile.

Problems Down the Road

Unfortunately, neglecting damage caused by ice chewing often sets the stage for more serious, and more expensive, problems down the road:

  • Cracks and Chips: Depending on the severity, a simple filling might fix a small chip or crack. Larger cracks and fractures could require crowns for structural support and protection, or veneers to address cosmetic concerns.
  • Deep Cavities: If decay caused by enamel damage progresses unchecked, a root canal may be necessary to save an infected tooth. This is a more complex procedure involving cleaning the inner pulp of the tooth and is sometimes followed by fitting a crown.
  • Lost Teeth: In extreme cases, fractured or heavily decayed teeth beyond repair might need to be extracted. This leaves a gap in your smile and may require further treatment, like a bridge, implant, or denture to replace the missing tooth.

Alternatives to Crunching

Giving up your ice-chewing habit doesn’t mean you have to go without satisfying sensory experiences. Here are some healthier swaps:

  • Sugar-free gum: Not only does it give you something to chew on, but sugar-free gum with xylitol can stimulate saliva flow which helps wash away food particles and neutralize harmful acids in your mouth.
  • Crunchy vegetables: Carrots, celery, cucumber slices, or bell peppers provide a satisfying texture with the added bonus of being healthy snacks. To give them an extra chill, store them in the fridge beforehand.
  • Talk to your dentist: If the urge to chew is strong and these alternatives don’t suffice, speak to your dentist. They might be able to recommend other options or investigate if there’s an underlying reason (like stress or an iron deficiency) that drives your desire to chew.

Protect Your Smile and Your Health

The satisfying crunch of ice might seem like a small indulgence, but the damage it can cause adds up fast. That seemingly simple habit can have serious consequences for your teeth, jaw, and overall health. Small changes, like switching to healthier crunchy snacks or opting for sugar-free gum, can make a big difference. If you suspect your ice habit has caused damage or experience any change in tooth sensitivity, don’t ignore it—visit your dentist. They can assess the situation, provide treatment, and help you develop strategies to protect your smile.

Your smile is one of your most valuable assets. It’s how you express joy, connect with others, and project confidence. Protect it by being mindful of what you chew. A few thoughtful choices today can save you from discomfort, costly dental procedures, and potential damage to your smile’s appearance.

Remember, routine dental visits are key. Your dentist is your best resource for catching problems in their earliest stage, helping you maintain a healthy and vibrant smile!

Smile Smarter,
Dr. Joyce

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