The Dilemma of Chewing Ice

An iced drink might be more harmful than you realize.

An ice cold drink is refreshing and enjoyable, and sometimes the larger ice chunks are hard to resist crunching into smaller pieces. Up to 250 pounds of force may be needed to break ice cubes with your teeth and the sound of ice crystals shattering reverberates across a room unlike any other chewing activity! Some people who chew ice may suffer from an iron deficiency and inflammation of the tongue. But ice-chewing often becomes a habit that simply needs to be broken.

Chewing ice habitually carries a higher risk of damage to your teeth than chewing many other types of hard foods. Your teeth are made of mineralized layers that protect the soft inner nerve and blood supply found at the center of each one. Enamel, the hardest substance in your body, provides a unique armor as the outer layer. Intricate crystal rods comprise this remarkable covering, although it’s relatively brittle without the support of the layer underneath it.   

Micro fractures often form in teeth after thousands of normal chewing cycles, and ice accelerates the process. When chewing on ice, the crystallized enamel experiences an extreme temperature change. As the temperature suddenly drops, the crystal expands slightly. The temporary tension releases as the temperature rises again, a process amplified by the jaw force crushing the ice.

Watch for the warning signs of a cracked tooth.

Pay Attention to the Warning Signs

Sometimes a tooth cracks, giving you a warning. However in other cases, the first clue is when a large piece of tooth breaks off. A broken tooth may be sensitive to cold and hot or have sharp edges that annoy the tongue, but they rarely cause aches. And many of these teeth have large silver fillings in them, which may be dark in color from the amalgam staining that occurs over time. Don’t be fooled: a broken tooth needs attention to prevent further problems from developing down the road.

Sometimes a tooth sends you a warning that it is cracked and may be in danger of worsening. If your tooth twinges with a cold drink but feels fine to chew on, it’s probably not damaged. If you’ve tried a sensitivity toothpaste for a couple of weeks without any change, you still might want to find out the cause. It’s time to schedule a time to see us though if you bite down on certain foods and experience a sharp, sudden pain in the same area. This usually means the crack is expanding slightly under pressure and will likely worsen over time.

What Should You Do?

Teeth that ache for an extended period of time after chewing or hurt out-of-the-blue may have deeper cracks. Many of them can still be salvaged; even when a piece of tooth breaks off, the tooth can usually be saved. But waiting too long can cause bite pain and lead to the tooth splitting, and the tooth will need to be removed. 

Think twice before crunching on ice.

Your teeth handle a lot of use and abuse. But chewing ice adds extra stress and possible problems that can be avoided. Crunching on ice or hard candies may also damage porcelain restorations or other types of fillings. Many of these materials mimic tooth structure and can break if they’re misused.  

If you’re experiencing any of these alarm bells mentioned above, we’ll help you sort out the reasons and the most conservative options for care. A couple of simple tests by Dr. Dbouk helps confirm a crack and the best ways to limit the damage. So next time you’re tempted to break an ice cube in half with your teeth, let it melt...your teeth will thank you for it!

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