Your teeth are effective, specialized tools. They are good for chewing food, but they’re not ideally suited for other tasks. Using them as bottle openers, pliers, nutcrackers, and, yes, icebreakers can lead to tooth and jaw damage. 

Detroit TMJ dentist Dr. Richard Klein recommends against chewing ice because it can cause or aggravate temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ or TMD). It can also lead to serious tooth problems.

How Ice “Chewing” Impacts TMJ

adult woman chewing on iceChewing ice is different from chewing other foods. With other foods, your bite compresses and cuts the food with steady pressure. Your body and brain learn how to apply the proper bite force for different types of food, helping you chew different food types effectively and safely. 

However, ice doesn’t behave like other foods. First, it’s generally harder than food. Breaking ice can take several times the force required to cut or chew other foods, even relatively hard foods like carrots. Although this doesn’t approach the maximum force your jaw muscles can exert–which bruxism does–it represents a relatively high stress for your muscles, especially if you do it regularly. Plus, remember that this force isn’t just applied to your muscles–it affects your jaw joint as well. It doesn’t take much force to dislocate or damage your jaw joints.

Second, ice often doesn’t mash or crush like food. Instead, it shatters, and this sudden destruction can cause your jaw to jolt upward to strike your skull. The concussive force of this impact can dislocate or damage your jaw joint. 

This combination of stresses can cause you to develop TMJ or aggravate existing TMJ. 

Why Chewing Ice Is Bad for Your Teeth

In addition to potentially damaging your temporomandibular joints, chewing ice can badly damage your teeth. Ice is not as hard as your teeth, but when ice breaks and your teeth slam together, the impact can lead to tooth cracking. Tooth enamel is very hard, but it’s brittle. Sudden hard impacts can cause your teeth to develop cracks. 

In addition, teeth don’t respond well to sudden changes in temperature. Exposure to cold ice then warm saliva can contribute to thermal cracking.

Small tooth cracks might be a merely cosmetic problem. These cracks acquire stains and make your teeth look unattractive and unhealthy. However, some cracks can be large enough to cause tooth sensitivity. Cold air and cold liquids can penetrate the cracks to make your teeth hurt. Some cracks can be even deeper, penetrating the living interior of your tooth. When this happens, bacteria can invade your teeth, leading to an infection. Once your tooth is infected, you may need root canal therapy to remove the infection–or you may have to lose the tooth. 

Over time, repeated ice chewing will turn small cracks into larger cracks. You may not initially notice the damage. By the time you notice damage, you may need significant restorative dentistry. 

Sidebar: How Ice Can Help: Using Hot and Cold Packs for TMJ Relief at Home

While chewing ice is bad for your joints and teeth, using an ice pack as part of TMJ home therapy can relieve pain and swelling. If you have jaw pain, an ice pack helps numb pain and reduce swelling (inflammation). You can always use an ice pack to help control TMJ symptoms. 

You can also apply moist heat to help relieve muscle soreness and tension. If muscle soreness is the source of TMJ symptoms, alternating hot and cold packs can provide the best relief. However, if you aren’t sure about the source of symptoms, a cold pack is a safer bet. 

Then consult a TMJ dentist for specific home care instructions or professional TMJ treatment

Get Relief from TMJ Symptoms in Detroit

Has chewing ice and other jaw stress led to TMJ symptoms? If you have jaw pain, headaches, tooth damage, neck pain, and other symptoms, the TMJ dentists at the Michigan Head & Neck Institute can help. 

Please call (586) 573-0438 or use our online form to request an appointment at the Michigan Head & Neck Institute, serving the Detroit area, from our location in Warren, MI.