When Pica Strikes: Substances Not for Snacking

Craving odd substances like chalk and clay is usually the sign of a larger problem – pica –and it’s hard on teeth!

Craving odd substances like chalk and clay is usually the sign of a larger problem – pica –and it’s hard on teeth!

When you reach for a snack, you may grab an apple, a cup of yogurt or cheese and crackers – not a stick of chalk. But for people with pica, an eating disorder that causes cravings for nonfood substances, those unorthodox eats are all too real.

Pica can be caused by depression, stress, anxiety and mineral deficiencies. Some substances that pica sufferers commonly ingest include clay, chalk, plaster, paper, soil and pencil erasers. But this habit isn’t just unusual – it’s downright harmful. Eating non-nutritive items that aren’t meant to be consumed can not only lead to serious stomach and other systemic problems, but also may wear down tooth enamel and structures at a faster rate, eventually leading to tooth loss.

Pica is more common in women and children, and it’s not uncommon for pica to pop up during pregnancy. A pregnant woman with an iron deficiency, for example, might seek materials containing that mineral, such as clay.

If you find yourself craving strange substances, discuss the cravings and your dietary habits with your physician. He or she should be able to diagnose the problem and prescribe supplements and dietary changes that will help curb the cravings. If you currently suffer from pica (or have in the past), let your dentist know. Your dentist can help you prevent damage to your teeth or discuss options to help repair any damage that has already occurred.

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