I can't stop eating sand...will it hurt me?
March 26, 2007 12:53 PM   Subscribe

I can't stop eating SAND...will it hurt me in any way?

I'm fairly certain that I have pica, a disorder where you crave non-food items such as dirt, coffee grounds, laundry starch and other weird things. Recently I received this little sand sculpture in a glass bottle with colored sand in it and I can't seem to stop putting a few grains of sand in my mouth and crunching on them for a while. What are possible reprecussions of eating sand? This has been going on for a few months now and I'd say I've consumed less than half a teaspoon of sand total. I don't want to stop, but I'm worried that I'm slowly poisoning myself.
posted by annie7978 to Health & Fitness (29 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It's probably bad for your tooth enamel (sand is abrasive), and I'd be worried about the chemicals used for coloring, but other than that sand is pretty darn inert.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 1:00 PM on March 26, 2007

I'd worry more about whatever was used to color the sand than the sand itself.

That said, if you eat enough of anything it can hurt you. I have a gecko that had to have gastrointestinal surgery in order to clear a teaspoon of sand out of her gut. But I'm pretty sure that she's considerably smaller than you are.
posted by lekvar at 1:00 PM on March 26, 2007

It can damage your tooth enamel/wear down your teeth if you're munching on a lot of quartz.
posted by jamaro at 1:01 PM on March 26, 2007

A few grains? Doesn't sound like it'd cause any harm. In a way, I suppose it's like biting fingernails or chewing on a pencil. If you were literally eating mounds of sand (which is what the phrasing of your post indicated) you're probably OK.

Still, if it's of concern to you, you should check in with a doctor or a therapist.
posted by aladfar at 1:04 PM on March 26, 2007

I get sand (+ salt water) in my mouth on a relatively regular basis, and so I can assure you that I have ingested it and it hasn't caused any problems. As others mentioned, the crunching probably isn't a good idea (although I know that's also part of the "fun".)
posted by nekton at 1:06 PM on March 26, 2007

I really have no idea about this, but I keep imagining it would be akin to what happens when sand collects down your tub drain over time. Wouldn't it just all collect and slow down the flow of things? (keeping in mind also that the digestive system is by no means made of smooth metal pipe)
posted by iamkimiam at 1:07 PM on March 26, 2007

Make sure you're not craving it because of a nutritional deficiency if it continues. Pica, which is a term for eating substance slike sand/dirt/clay, can be a sign of this, most often iron.
posted by ejaned8 at 1:14 PM on March 26, 2007

please ask a doctor about this.

that said, I'd imagine that at best it's not activey harmful in the amounts you're talking about. since the realm of possible effects resulting from this starts at "probable minor damage to tooth enamel" and gets worse from there, I'd imagine you'd be better off trying to stop. But again, I'm not a doctor. Good luck with everything.
posted by shmegegge at 1:14 PM on March 26, 2007

I heard a radio doctor say that a desire to eat ice could be pointing to B-vitamin deficiency; if so, maybe your desire for a different crunchy material could be, too.
posted by jamjam at 1:16 PM on March 26, 2007

ps. Just noticed that you already mentioned it was pica. It sounds like a very small amount in your case, but still might be worthwhile checking your iron/etc levels.
posted by ejaned8 at 1:16 PM on March 26, 2007

I wouldn't be surprised if it turns out you have an underlying nutritional deficiency, so please think about a multivitamin. From this article, some possible nutritional causes of pica are: deficiencies in iron, calcium, zinc, and other nutrients (eg, thiamine, niacin, vitamins C and D).
posted by selfmedicating at 1:17 PM on March 26, 2007

Pica occurs because, like selfmedicating says, you've got some sort of nutritional deficiency in your diet.

Start taking a multivitamin and get yourself to a doctor. Seriously.
posted by gramcracker at 1:31 PM on March 26, 2007

Tooth enamel has a relative hardness (on the Mohs scale) of about 5.5-6 [powerpoint] Glass is about 6, Quartz is about 7.5. In absolute-hardness, sand is about twice as hard as your teeth. Eating sand, (or far worse, chewing sand) will cause permanent abrasion to the enamel. This will lead to cavities which will require fillings. If you continue to do this, the entire structure of the tooth may degrade to a point where simple fillings will not be sufficient to stave off decay, in which case you're looking at root canals and crowns (expensive) or dental implants (very expensive).

In summary: see a psychologist. This isn't just a bad habit like picking your nose or biting your nails. If you continue down this road you may be in for some very unpleasant repercussions.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:31 PM on March 26, 2007

...or a doctor, as everyone else have already recommended.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:32 PM on March 26, 2007

It doesn't sound much like pica if it's a 'few grains' and 'crunching on them a while'. It sounds more like a habit. I chew on plastic all the time, it's because my mouth just needs to chew a lot.. it's a habit I have and plastic is something I can chew on for ages. Possibly the same here.
posted by wackybrit at 1:36 PM on March 26, 2007

Of course, IANAD, and since 20 people already mentioned the doctor.. ;-)
posted by wackybrit at 1:40 PM on March 26, 2007

Whether it's pica or a habit, you should go have your blood tested (specifically get checked for anemia). My mom used to chew ice incessantly. ALL the time. Since taking an iron supplement, that has stopped.
posted by eleyna at 1:41 PM on March 26, 2007

Abrasion to the enamel, nutritional deficiency (usually iron deficiency, but sometimes lead poisoning, which is exacerbated if the non-food of choice is lead-contaminated soil) and comorbid psychiatric disease such as OCD are the things I associate with pica; they've all been mentioned, and they certainly warrant a doctor visit.
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:12 PM on March 26, 2007

Sorry to derail, but hold on here: you can and did hire a gastrointestinal surgeon for your gecko? lekvar, you're the most astonishingly conscientious pet owner I've ever heard of.
posted by contraption at 3:14 PM on March 26, 2007

Colored sand is sometimes actual sand that's been dyed, and sometimes colored glass particles. I'd be concerned about 1) the probable toxicity of the dyes used and 2) whether you're chomping on glass particles.
posted by oneirodynia at 3:18 PM on March 26, 2007

Can you wean yourself on to chewing crunchy sugar or salt? I'd be worried about the tooth damage over time. I would also be worried about the dye - at worst, can you go buy some plain sand? That stuff obviously isn't required to be food safe and could be really nasty.
posted by crabintheocean at 3:41 PM on March 26, 2007

yes, visit your doctor. and get rid of the sand sculpture, or replace the sand with, say, rock salt dyed with food coloring.
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:44 PM on March 26, 2007

contraption, the vet my cats go to is also, conveniently enough, an exotics vet. The cost wasn't nearly as bad as I'd anticipated, either, I suspect that I got the "novelty procedure" discount, and the vet got to brag that she'd removed an ounce of sand from an ounce of lizard.
posted by lekvar at 3:51 PM on March 26, 2007

I really have no idea about this, but I keep imagining it would be akin to what happens when sand collects down your tub drain over time. Wouldn't it just all collect and slow down the flow of things? (keeping in mind also that the digestive system is by no means made of smooth metal pipe)
posted by iamkimiam

No, your gut is very effective at flushing things through. Peristalsis and solid matter moving through all the time, as well as renewing of lining of the digestive tract mean that, despite what colonic irrigationists say, you don't have years of goop stuck to your innards.
posted by tomble at 5:40 PM on March 26, 2007

FWIW - i read somewhere that throughout their lifetime the average human will consume several kilograms of dirt and grit, inadvertantly of course.

So half a teaspoon.. i think your fine. But of course you need to stop it getting any bigger. so see a doctor.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 6:59 PM on March 26, 2007

Chewing sand will abrade your tooth enamel; I'd recommend finding a way to stop the urge/habit. There is hope for damaged enamel, though: there's a relatively new toothpaste ingredient in Arm & Hammer "Enamel Care" toothpaste that strengthens/(rebuilds?) tooth enamel. My dentist is not an early adopter of faddish dental innovations, nor is he a shill for any pharmaceutical or hygiene companies. After having sensitive teeth due to weak enamel for twenty years, he started alternating this new product with his regular tartar control toothpaste for his twice daily tooth cleaning, and found that after a few months, his enamel had strengthened to a point where he no longer experienced sensitivity when eating or drinking. I'm sure results may vary, but I take this guy's recommendation seriously and pass it on, particularly since you chew sand, which is very bad for tooth enamel. Stop chewing sand and start using enamel care toothpaste, or you might end up spending a lot of money on painful procedures to repair teeth that may be irreparable. You don't want to grow old without your teeth; it's painful and not being able to eat well can be the root of a lot of old-age sadness.
posted by breezeway at 7:24 PM on March 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

I recall hearing that Egyptian mummy teeth were so rotten because so much sand found its way into their food. just something to keep in mind.
posted by nihlton at 8:12 PM on March 26, 2007

Ear-Bending Cellmate: ...and when there was no meat, we ate fowl and when there was no fowl, we ate crawdad and when there was no crawdad to be found, we ate sand.
H.I.: You ate what?
Ear-Bending Cellmate: We ate sand.
H.I.: You ate sand?
Ear-Bending Cellmate: That's right.
posted by kirkaracha at 7:08 AM on March 27, 2007

« Older Make my resolution greater, please?   |   Is it nuts to consider buying a hitch and... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.