Nail biting is a habit shared by between a quarter and a third of children and nearly half of teenagers. While some behaviors don’t always have negative effects on a person’s physical health, but this one definitely does. In addition to leaving the nails torn and uneven and damaging the nail beds, nail biting can lead to a variety of oral health complications.
Nail Biting Versus Teeth and Gums
You might think that teeth are much tougher than your fingernails, but over time, nail biting can cause significant damage to both teeth and gums. Here is what can happen:
- Erosion, chipping, and cracking: the grinding friction of teeth against nails can gradually wear the enamel away, or even cause teeth to chip or crack.
- Malocclusion and gaps: biting nails doesn’t just damage the teeth, it can also cause them to move, leading to malocclusions (problems with bite) and gaps.
- Root resorption: excessive nail biting can cause the jaw bone to reabsorb the roots, weakening them and leaving them more vulnerable to falling out. This is an even greater risk for people with wire braces.
- Gingivitis: Dirt and germs get trapped under fingernails. When we chew on nails, those germs are transferred to our mouths, which can result in gum disease.
- Bruxism: Nail biting can increase a person’s risk of developing a chronic teeth-grinding habit, which comes with even more oral health problems such as headaches and jaw soreness.
Why Does Nail Biting Happen?
If nail biting has such unpleasant consequences, then why do so many people do it? It isn’t fully understood yet, but studies have indicated that it can be an effect of anxiety, boredom, or perfectionism. Similar repetitive behaviors include skin picking and hair pulling. Often, people may not even notice themselves doing it, which can make it much harder to stop.
Tips To Help Break The Habit
Until more is known about nail biting and its causes it can be difficult to know how to break the habit. Here are a few strategies that may help:
- Trim your nails regularly so you don’t have anything to bite.
- Paint your nails with bitter-tasting polish so biting becomes associated with a nasty taste.
- Get a manicure! If your nails are pretty, you’ll be more motivated to keep them that way.
- Swap the nail biting habit with a more harmless way to fidget, like silly putty or a stress ball.
- Figure out your triggers. When you know what sets off the nail biting, you can plan ahead and do something different.
- Make stopping a gradual process. Choose one nail at a time to stop biting, and maybe cover it so you physically can’t bite it. Add more fingernails to the bite ban until there aren’t any left!
We’re Here For You!
At Smileboston Cosmetic and Implant Dentistry, the oral health of our patients is our biggest priority. Smileboston is here to help you ensure that your teeth and gums are tip top shape. With two beautiful offices in Brookline, MA and on Boston’s South Shore, Smileboston offers comprehensive dental care ranging from general and laser dentistry, to dental implants and full smile makeovers. Visit Smileboston online to view our full menu of services.