Among the many things we as parents have to keep our toddlers from putting in their mouths, like crayons, lint and glue, ice is one of those things we often let slide for a bit. There’s a reason your toddler is fascinated with ice; both playing with it and eating it. And let’s be real, a few ice chips in a drink just add more excitement to their cup. But in trying to do all things in moderation, it’s good to know if there are any risks with letting them eat it.
Why Are Toddlers Interested In Ice?
“Ice is attractive because the cold sensation can be soothing on a teething toddler's gums, but it can also be attractive for sensory purposes,” says Fadiyla Dopwell, M.D., and developmental-behavioral pediatrician at Developmental Pediatric Services in Dallas, TX.
Allowing your child to explore the texture and intriguing temperature of ice is beneficial during this time in their development. It’s an exciting adventure for their little hands and taste buds. And although it may lack flavor, the cold and hard gives them a mission: melt it and crunch it down. “Toddlers who are sensory-seeking may also enjoy the variability in sensory output that comes with eating ice. In addition to the cold sensation, ice has a smooth texture when sucked on and makes a crunchy noise when chewed. These different sensations can be enjoyable to a child who is sensory-seeking,” Dopwell tells Romper.
It can also offer some relief to the summer heat.
What Doctors Say About Toddlers Eating Ice
While ice is a great development booster, concern for whether or not it will hurt your toddler's little teeth is another issue. Dopwell says, “Chewing on ice can cause damage to the tooth enamel over time. It can also cause damage to the child's gum tissue if the edges are sharp and may even chip a tooth.” Also, depending on the size of the ice pieces, it can present a choking hazard. And if your child is constantly looking for something to put in their mouth, Pica may be a cause to consider. “Pica is an eating disorder in which people eat non-food or non-nutritive items, including ice, toys, dirt, and hair. Pica can be associated with iron deficiency anemia. Since it is difficult to tell if a toddler is mouthing objects for sensory benefits or because of Pica, it is always beneficial to update your pediatrician with your observations. Your pediatrician can determine if further workup is needed.”
Pica is often found in 10 to 30% of children ages one to six but typically goes away in a few months.
How Can Your Toddler Explore With Ice Safely?
If your toddler begins to repeatedly ask to munch on ice, here are some strategies you can use to deter this habit and spare their teeth.
- Create flavored ice cubes on popsicle sticks and only permit your toddler to eat those as a treat. Encourage licking and not chewing and make crunching on regular ice off-limits. Also, let them help create their treat and they’ll be more inclined to accept this transition knowing they had a hand in it.
- Explain, in a very simple and straightforward way, how constantly chewing ice can harm their little chompers.
- Find another sensory-stimulating food or object for them to discover like Jell-O.
“As with any sensory play, a toddler's ability to use his senses to explore objects can be great for development,” says Dopwell.
Fadiyla Dopwell, M.D., developmental-behavioral pediatrician at Developmental Pediatric Services in Dallas, TX