What causes chipped and broken teeth? Participants in various sports often get their teeth broken—hockey comes to mind. An accident can also cause teeth to become chipped or broken. It’s clear that we associate damaged teeth with some out-of-the-ordinary event. Our teeth are certainly not going to become chipped or broken if we just sit at home with in ice-cold beverage, watching Netflix, right?

Not necessarily. Do you, or someone you love, suffer from pagophagia? The answer may be yes, but don’t worry—it’s not quite as serious as it sounds. Pagophagia is a term for someone who craves and chews ice.


While some researchers claim to have found a relationship between ice-eaters and anemia, it should be said that it’s never been proven that chewing ice has anything to do with either a lack of iron or any form of anemia. Other equally unproven beliefs are that eating ice is a sign of stress, nutritional issues, or dehydration.

The desire to crave non-food items such as dirt, glue, chalk, flaking paint, corn starch, paper—or ice—are all forms of an eating disorder known as pica. Pagophagia is a specific type of pica that only involves the chewing and eating of ice.

It would seem that, of the various ways in which pica can manifest itself—eating paint chips, dirt, or glue—chewing ice is probably the least harmful of the lot. And yet, chewing ice can indeed destroy a crucial component of good health; ice chewers could be doing major damage to their teeth. If one considers that pagophagia is more common in children than in adults, affecting 10% to 30% of youngsters ages 1 to 6, chewing ice could create problems that will last a lifetime.

In a list of the top five bad dental habits, the website WebMD puts chewing ice in its number one spot, saying the brittleness and cold temperature of ice can cause teeth to chip or break and can also cause microscopic cracks in the surface of the enamel, leading to bigger problems over time. Additionally, ice chewers can damage existing dental work or injure their gums.

Ice in our beverages seems so innocent and so crucial when it’s hot. Ice goes with summer like popcorn goes with movies, and that is not just a random simile. The fact is, ice and popcorn have something in common: popcorn can also wreak havoc on teeth.


Popcorn can inflict a one-two punch of dental problems. First, there is the hull, the thin shell that envelops the kernel. Hulls can get lodged between teeth and can also work their way down between the teeth and gums—often unnoticed—where they can attract bacteria. Unfortunately, popcorn hulls have a similar curve to many teeth, and so they can cling to a tooth’s surface. Worse still is that the fibers in popcorn hulls don’t break down, so they can sit between your teeth and gums for a long time, collecting bacteria and eventually causing an abscess.

The second blow that popcorn can deliver is when you chomp down on an un-popped kernel, shattering a tooth. In the U.K., as health-conscious Brits began switching from potato chips to popcorn for their snack of choice, dentists report instances of chipped and broken teeth doubling. Un-popped kernels silently lurk at the bottom of a popcorn bag until they hitch a ride on a handful of popcorn heading for your mouth. Bite down on that rock-like kernel and you may likely incur some tooth damage, from a chipped or broken tooth to damaged enamel.


Something else that can cause a variety of dental problems is a ’90s fad that’s having a resurgence: tongue piercing. Research by the University Center for Dentistry in Switzerland found that people with a tongue piercing appear more likely to suffer from gum disease. Dr. Clemens Walter, a senior researcher at the university, said, “The closer teeth were to a tongue piercing, the more affected they were.”

The most common tongue jewelry is the barbell, in which a stem goes through the tongue and is capped at both ends. The study found the type and the amount of damage caused by the piercing was relational to the length of the barbell’s stem. The study found that 50% of those wearing long-stem barbells for two or more years had receding gums. Long-stem barbells are more likely to reach and damage the gums than are short-stem barbells.

Research also showed that those with short barbells are more likely to cause tooth chipping because people with tongue piercing tend to bite the barbell, and it’s easier to position a short-stem barbell between the teeth. Plus, as Dr. Clemens Walter points out, “Patients with a tongue piercing play with the piercing and push the piercing to the teeth, especially the lower front teeth, causing irritation.”

According to American Dental Association spokesman Dr. Tyrone Rodriguez, tongue piercings are like little wrecking balls inside the mouth. He said, “The hard structure hits against the tooth, and that constant tapping causes micro-cracks that eventually become big cracks that cause the tooth structure to fail or the tooth to become very, very sensitive.”

It isn’t often when we’re able to avoid big problems by investing very little effort, but avoiding chipped or broken teeth seems to be fairly easy:

  1. Don’t chew ice
  2. Avoid popcorn and watch for un-popped kernels if you do eat it
  3. Don’t get your tongue pierced and if it’s already pierced, remove the ornamentation

If you do experience a chipped or broken tooth, save the pieces of the tooth if possible. If there’s bleeding, apply pressure with a gauze pad. Most importantly, call the office of Dr. Brei immediately.

There are many ways to get in touch with the office of Dr. Brei. You can email the office at appointments@drbrei.com, call 520-325-9000, or click here to book online and schedule an appointment directly. Don’t delay if you chip or break a tooth; contact the office of Dr. Brei as soon as possible!