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Chewing Ice: Harmless Snack or Dangerous Habit?

If you’ve ever finished your drink and absentmindedly began chomping on the ice left behind in the glass, you know how refreshing and satisfying it can be. But while this occasional treat is essentially harmless, crunching on ice cubes on a regular basis could be a red flag for a serious condition – not to mention terrible for your teeth. We asked Dr. Stephen Hill of Allen, TX why something as seemingly harmless as chewing on ice cubes is so bad for you.

Ice: its cold, it's refreshing, its calorie free. It’s just water, after all. Our bodies are made of 50-65% water. Seventy percent of our planet is covered in water. Water literally is life. So why, when its frozen does it go from being the most important compound on earth, to a major red flag? According to Dr. Stephen Hill, it’s not the water that’s the problem. It’s the state of the water. In other words, says Hill "The problem with ice is that it’s solid."

So what kinds of problems can crunching on a solid such as ice cause you? "Well, for starters, done regularly it’s terrible for your teeth," Says Hill. "Your teeth are meant for chewing food. Nothing in our diet is that hard, so teeth are not really designed to crunch anything that solid on a regular basis." According to Hill, crunching on ice can cause a whole host of problems- everything from excessive wear to the enamel of your crunching teeth, to chipped or broken teeth. And while chips and enamel wear can be repaired in many cases, if a tooth breaks badly enough, it may not be salvageable. "In that case," says Hill "you’d be looking at a dental implant or a partial denture. All for crunching on ice."

As problematic as regularly crunching ice can be to your teeth, it can also signal another serious problem is at hand. It’s said that crunching ice is a sign that you may be anemic. Anemia, or iron deficiency, is a red blood cell or hemoglobin deficiency in the blood. While this condition is usually easily treatable, if left untreated it can sometimes be fatal. Patients who suffer from anemia often crunch on ice without even realizing they’re anemic. One of the side effects of anemia is fatigue, and crunching on ice acts as a ‘wake up’ to the anemic person’s brain. According to Hill, if you feel tired, and can’t seem to stop crunching on ice, you should contact your primary care physician and set up an appointment to discuss your symptoms. If your doctor thinks you are at risk for anemia, he will order an anemia panel. Results typically take about a day, and you won’t need to fast before the blood draw. Says Hill "If you are crunching on ice more frequently than you’d like, or if you can’t seem to stop, get it checked out. It could save your teeth- and maybe even your life."

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