iceMuch of the world drinks their beverages either hot or at room temperature, but Americans often prefer their drinks with ice. Do you find yourself filling your beverages with ice so you can suck or chew on it? There are a number of explanations for this habit which seems harmless but can have a negative effect on your teeth. What are they?

You may have an iron deficiency, or anemia, that causes you to crave ice (pagophagia). People with this condition will often go through bags of ice weekly or even daily, and medically, this compulsion to chew on substances with no nutritional value, including dirt or rocks, is known as “pica.” Anemia has a number of other unhappy symptoms like fatigue, so if you are tired and find yourself craving ice, make an appointment to see your doctor. Many people with pagophagia find that when their underlying anemia is resolved, their cravings disappear. They also no longer chew ice in order to feel awake and focused.

Women sometimes crave ice during pregnancy as well, due to pregnancy-related anemia or other reasons doctors are not always able to diagnose. After their children are born, the urge to chew ice recedes.

Chewing ice can also be a symptom of a psychological problem, either developmental or emotional, or a mental condition like obsessive-compulsive disorder. Some people unconsciously chew ice for the same reasons they grind their teeth at night: to deal with stress.

Chewing ice may seem harmless, and it’s not as bad for you as many other habits like smoking or chewing tobacco, but it can cause damage to your enamel as well as tooth cracking or chipping. Wearing down dental enamel can lead to tooth sensitivity and/or cavities, and chewing ice can also cause older fillings or dental work to loosen and fall out.

If, after consulting a doctor to rule out any of the above conditions, you still like to chew ice, do it sparingly or choose softer ice products like slushies instead. Keep track of how often you’re chewing ice and how much ice you chew daily or weekly to determine your progress. You may be able to wean yourself off of your chewing habit in stages instead of trying to quit cold turkey and failing. If that fails, consult your dentist to determine how your habit could affect your oral health and if there are any safer strategies you might implement to discontinue it.