How Chewing On Ice, Anemia & Gum Disease Are Related & Treatments That Can Help

7 June 2016
 Categories: Dentist, Articles


Chewing on ice can be addictive, especially for people who have iron deficiency anemia. If you seem to be addicted to chewing on ice, that could be an early sign of anemia and you could be at risk of developing periodontitis. Here's how it's all related and what types of medical and dental treatment can help. 

Compulsive Chewing On Ice & Anemia 

Chewing on ice compulsively is a form of pica and is called pagophagia, which is associated with having anemia due to deficiency in iron. Researchers believe that the body responds to a deficiency in iron by craving ice. The coldness of ice in your mouth brings on an autonomic response in which your body activates what is called the dive reflex. This reflex causes your nervous system to activate, which increases the flow of blood to the brain. 

When someone has iron deficiency anemia, their body doesn't produce enough hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the component of the blood that carries oxygen. To put it simply, your body craves chewing on ice as a natural way to get more blood to flow to the brain, which makes up for the reduction in hemoglobin when someone has anemia.

Medical treatment: Anemia can be treated by your primary care physician. However, you may get referred to a hematologist, who is a doctor that specializes in blood disorders. Blood tests determine the severity of anemia. Treatment for anemia includes dietary modification, nutritional supplements, medication, blood transfusion, and blood and marrow stem cell transplants. Typically, your blood test results and your health condition will be used to determine which plan of action to take to treat your anemia.

Anemia & Gum Disease

According to the National Institutes of Health, when someone is anemic, they are at higher risk of developing periodontitis, which is a severe form of gum disease. People with periodontitis can experience tooth mobility, which is when there isn't enough gum tissue to support the teeth. This happens with periodontitis because the gum tissue pulls away from the teeth, which leaves the teeth unsupported. 

Periodontitis begins as gingivitis, which is when the gum tissue is inflamed. This can be caused by the lack of hemoglobin that occurs with anemia. Since the cells do not get enough oxygen due to low hemoglobin, there is a higher risk of infection in the gum tissue. This infection leads to inflammation and can cause the gum tissue to pull away from the teeth. 

Due to the gap that is created in between the teeth and the gums, more bacteria and food particles can get trapped, which causes the condition of the gums to worsen and lead to the more severe forms of gum disease.

Dental treatment: Periodontitis, unfortunately, is irreversible. However, laser gum treatment is a viable option that can help save the remaining teeth. Laser gum treatment cleans out the pockets of space in between the gums and teeth. It's used as a preferred treatment because it's not as harsh and abrasive as traditional gum and teeth cleaning treatments are. 

Gingivitis, which is a milder type of gum disease, is reversible because the gum tissue is still attached to the teeth. Laser gum treatment also works for people who have gingivitis. The reason for this is because the gum tissue is less susceptible to the wounds that are typical during traditional cleanings. This allows the gum tissue to heal faster.

During dental treatment and through the healing stage, it's important to control your cravings to chew ice by keeping your anemia under control. The reason for this is because you'll be asked to follow a liquid and/or soft-food diet during the recovery from the laser gum treatment, which is determined on a case-by-case basis by your dentist or periodontist. 

For more information, talk to a dentist at a clinic like Neu Family Dental Center.