Do you chew on an ice cube or two after you’ve finished off your drink? Although the blender might be a good way to crush up ice, your teeth are not. Many people chew on ice, especially during the summer months. Chewing ice includes the cubes at the bottom of your drink, but also flavored shaved ice many enjoy when it’s hot out.
But what if you can’t stop chewing ice? Ice chewing can be a serious addiction just like smoking or alcohol. Medically referred to as pagophagia, ice chewing can be the indicator of a serious health problem. Chewing ice seems like it would be harmless aside from the annoying crunching sound, but it could be a sign of iron deficiency anemia. There are over 400 types of anemia, but iron deficiency anemia is quite common. About 20% of women, 50% of pregnant women, and 3% of men suffer from iron deficiency anemia.
So why would someone who has iron deficiency anemia chew ice? Although studies are not conclusive, some have shown that the cool ice cubes can sooth the oral inflammation that sometimes results from iron deficiencies. Another reason anemic people may eat ice is because it can energize them. Iron is needed to make hemoglobin, which enables the body’s red blood cells to carry oxygen. Because iron deficient anemic people do not have this oxygen, they can often feel fatigued. The ice may provide a cold jolt that can push more oxygenated blood through the body, making it feel more alert and awake.
Anemia is not the only reason someone might chew ice. Although less common, some may chew due to stress, boredom, quitting cigarettes, or other reasons. Regardless of the reason, you should tell your dentist immediately if you have an ice-chewing problem. It can chip or crack your teeth, damage enamel, and cause sore jaw muscles. It may also make your teeth more sensitive and more prone to cavities.
The best treatment for chewing ice is to see a medical professional right away. If the cause is iron deficiency anemia, the craving will likely go away once your iron levels are back to normal. If the cause is due to obsessive-compulsive disorder or another non-physical reason, then cognitive behavioral therapy may be beneficial. Please seek the medical care you need right away if you think you may have iron deficiency anemia.