Is Chewing Ice Harmful for My Child’s Teeth?

Ice cubes on the table

Every child has their set of bad habits. Maybe your kiddo is accustomed to picking their nose, sucking their thumb, or biting their nails when they’re bored. Other children might fidget when nervous or understimulated. Another bad habit among children and young adults? Chewing ice. So, the question today is, is chewing ice harmful for your son or daughter’s teeth? And if so, then how? It matters to know the answers to these questions as a parent of a child who loves chewing on ice.

So, Is Chewing Ice Harmful for Youngsters’ Teeth?

You might assume that the teeth are definitely strong enough to chew ice. It is true that the teeth are strong. After all, we can tear through chewy meats and bite into hard substances like peanut brittle. Not to mention, the enamel (the top layer of the teeth) is the hardest surface in the human body. So, what’s the problem with munching on a little frozen water?

Although strong, even the teeth have their limits.

One thing chewing ice might do is crack or chip your child’s tooth or teeth. Cosmetically, this can be unappealing. Physically, your child might experience pain. If it isn’t treated, a broken tooth might be at risk of an oral abscess, cavity, or infection. This can be very dangerous to their overall health.

Chewing ice in the long run (or even done once or twice if the ice is hard and frozen enough) can cause damage to your child’s enamel. The enamel layer of the teeth is essential in protecting pearly whites from damage.

As a result of enamel damage, tooth sensitivity may occur. Your child’s teeth may even turn a yellow or gray color due to the erosion of the enamel. As time goes on, the erosion of the top layer of your little one’s pearly whites might lead to sudden tooth gaps, ridges on the teeth, or the teeth may even start to look more rounded. No child wants to smile with teeth like that.

Remember: the enamel layer of the teeth will not grow back; it’s not like a strand of hair or a nail on your finger/toe. So, make your children aware of this. Their oral health is in their hands.

Why Do Children Chew Ice?

Sometimes chewing ice is just something people do when they’re bored, nervous, or just trying to stay busy. Other times, however, a habit of ice-chewing can be suggestive of something else.

For instance, an iron deficiency, with or without anemia, may be the underlying cause. An eating disorder known as pica might also be to blame. In some cases, dehydration might prompt your kiddo to chew on ice as opposed to drinking water in its liquid form. Even an anxiety disorder might be the reason they love chewing ice.

How to Cut the Habit of Chewing Ice

There are a lot more dangerous addictions than chewing ice. Although, even a chewing ice addiction needs to be put to a stop.

Breaking the habit all starts with figuring out the reason why the habit is occurring.

If chewing ice is something your child craves longer than a month or so, it might be worth taking your kid to the doctor. The underlying cause might be an iron deficiency. Another medical cause of ice-chewing might even be due to pica. Pica involves craving, consuming, and/or chewing items that have no nutritional value or may be harmful to ingest such as paper, dirt, metal, bark, rubber, or even ice. Getting a diagnosis and receiving treatment may be the thing your child needs to officially overcome their ice-crunching addiction.

Not all habits, however, can be completely broken ties with. At the very least, your child should slowly lean away from ice-chewing at a gradual pace, chewing less and less as time goes on. That might mean having to order or make drinks without ice or less ice than usual. Your child may even have to drink out of cups with a lid so that it won’t be as tempting to slide the ice from the cup into their mouth for chewing purposes.

Furthermore, a way you can help your child break this habit is through a reward and punishment system. Congratulate your child when they say no to ice. Reprimand them (without being too harsh or mean) when they relapse or stop trying to help themselves. Encourage your child along the way, and let them know that even though it’s hard, it’s not impossible to stop or limit their ice-chewing.

Alternatives to Chewing Ice

Habits can be difficult to break. This is especially true if your child is stubborn and is super keen on continuing to chew ice, no matter what they’re told. In a situation like this, sometimes it’s best to find a safer alternative rather than cut cold turkey or even stop gradually.

For instance, chewing nugget or shaved ice is much safer than, say, chewing ice cubes. This is because they’re in smaller pieces and, in turn, can’t cause nearly as much damage. They’re also not as hard and are easier for the teeth to breakthrough.

A snowcone, slushie, or another frozen treat might also work as an alternative to chewing ice. This is true if your child’s love for chewing ice can be derived from the fact that they love cold and frozen foods. However, if it’s sugary, there’s only so long this alternative will work before it’s time to find a better resolution. Sugar, in large amounts, can be harmful to one’s oral health in a similar way that ice-chewing can. Not to mention, it can be harmful for their overall health, period.

If anxiety, stress, or anger are the reasons for your child’s chewing ice habit, perhaps there are other things you can have your child do to release that negativity as an alternative. Being more direct with how they process their emotions might be a good start (i.e., talking with a trusted person about how they’re feeling, writing in a diary, etc.).

What if my Child’s Teeth are Already Damaged?

So, you’re wondering what can be done if chewing ice has already hurt your kid’s teeth.

If a broken tooth resulted from chewing ice, a filling, bonding, crown, or dental implant might be required. As for an oral-related infection as a result of a damaged tooth, a root canal might be opted for, or prescribed antibiotics might be needed.

And for kids whose enamel deteriorated from chewing ice, other treatments might be prescribed. Fluoride treatment; remineralization treatment; or veneers, dental bonding, or crowns are examples of such. A dentist might even may your child wear a mouthguard at night to prevent the enamel from further deteriorating from potential tooth grinding while sleeping.

Apart from dental treatment, your child might be advised to avoid acidic foods as much as possible, avoid fruit and carbonated beverages, and increase their water intake (especially after consuming sugary or acidic substances). Of course, brushing with a fluoridated toothpaste is a must, especially when one’s enamel has already begun to degenerate.

It can seem nerve-wracking realizing how dangerous chewing ice can be. However, in the end, the point of this article is to inform parents of the dangers of letting their kiddos chew ice. Whether they have their baby teeth still or have their full set of permanent teeth, it still matters to help them take charge of this dangerous habit. Intervening sooner than later can lead to the best results possible (and quicker ones, at that).