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If you like chewing ice you might make your dentist despair. You could crack a tooth. However, It might also be a clue to a health problem.

Occasionally crunching the ice left in your glass on a hot summer day is likely not symptomatic of a health issue. If, on the other hand, you are constantly, almost obsessively chewing ice over a long period of time it could indicate you have anemia.

Compulsive eating of non-food items – chalk, clay, soil, plaster, paper, or ice – is called pica and often linked to iron deficiency. Pica is not always caused by anemia. Stress, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or a developmental disorder can also trigger pica.

Doctors do not understood why iron deficiency leads to pica. One theory holds pica may be linked to trace amounts of iron in the item craved. Not always, though.


Chewing ice is so frequently linked with anemia there is a special term for doing it: pagophagia. Chewing ice satisfies the chewing craving while relieving two problems associated with anemia, inflammation of the mouth and lips and soreness of the tongue. Apparently chewing ice works like an ice pack, numbing mouth pain and reducing swelling. Unfortunately, studies indicate pagophagia may actually aggravate anemia.

See your doctor if you are compulsively gobbling ice. If tests show you are anemic, upping the iron in your diet will likely solve the problem. If not, your doctor can prescribe an appropriate treatment.

The good news? Studies show pagophagia linked to anemia goes away once the underlying anemia is treated—and goes away rapidly.

Not only will you be healthier, but you will feel less guilt at your next dental checkup. After all, your dentist will not have to lecture you about chewing ice. Which is nice.

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By Mark N. Lardas. Copyright © 2014 by GraceNotes. All rights reserved. Use of this material is subject to usage guidelines.

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