Compared to crunching hard pretzels or chewing on a tough steak, biting your nails might not seem like abuse, but it can actually do quite a bit of damage to your teeth. Onychophagia is a compulsive habit that is prominent across age groups, genders, and other demographics. People are often not even aware they are doing it, and it can be triggered by anxiety, boredom, stress, and so forth.
Oral Health Issues Associated With Nail Biting
Your nails are among the hardest surfaces of your body. The pressure from biting down and tearing can be great and result in chips, cracks, and even erosion of the enamel. Damage to the front teeth is particularly prevalent among nail biters, and the erosion that occurs over time not only undermines the enamel but can cause the teeth to appear squared off or otherwise worn down. As the enamel continues to wear, it is not uncommon for nail biters to develop sensitive teeth.
Potential damage is not limited to just the teeth. The improper use and overuse of the jaw can strain the temporomandibular joint and eventually result in a TMJ disorder. The side effects of TMD can include headaches, neck and shoulder pain, limited jaw mobility, pain when chewing, and so forth. Another potential manifestation is bruxism, which is the excessive grinding of the teeth and clenching of the jaw. People who wear braces or other teeth-tightening appliances are even more prone to such complications due to the additional stress on the teeth, and it can even interfere with the alignment.
Something else to consider is that there can be a great deal of harmful bacteria under your nails. When you chew on your nails, bacteria enter your mouth. The foreign bacteria can disrupt the oral microbiome, cause gum infections, lead to bad breath, and, of course, result in illness. You can also transmit oral bacteria beneath the nail and cuticle where it can cause an infection.
Putting an End to Nail Biting
Children and adolescents tend to be more prone to the habit but also tend to grow out of it prior to reaching adulthood. If you have reached adulthood as a nail biter or developed the habit as an adult, it can be challenging to quit but certainly not as difficult as, for instance, quitting smoking. Here are some options to consider:
- Establish a nail care routine. Keep your nails neat and trimmed. You will be much more inclined to chew your nails if there are uneven edges that get snagged or are otherwise noticeable.
- Taking this a step further, consider getting manicures or putting the effort in yourself. The more money and time you invest in your nails, the less inclined you will be to ruin them.
- You can also opt for special polishes that will not interfere with the aesthetics of your nails but will taste bitter. This kind of negative reinforcement works quite well for some people.
- Strive to identify the root cause of your nail biting. If it is stress, better stress management may help, and if it is anxiety or another mental health disorder, you may need to seek professional aid.
- People who bite their nails due to stress and the like often lead a lifestyle conducive to it. It can help considerably to balance your diet, exercise regularly, and meditate or otherwise relieve stress.
- Tell others that you are quitting. This will motivate you to be more committed, and it will inspire others to make you notice whenever you are biting your nails unconsciously.
Dental Checkups on a Regular Basis
It is important that you commit to quitting nail biting. Once you commit, it is very unlikely that you will fail in the end. If you do not already, you should also commit yourself to regular dental visits. The average person should visit his or her dentist every six months. Your dentist can assess your oral health and help you to overcome any damage that nail biting has caused.
You should feel comfortable discussing your nail biting with your dentist. Your dentist can assess your oral health within that context. He or she may also be able to help. Dentists can recommend mouthguards as well as advise you on various therapies. Sometimes, techniques as simple as how you hold your tongue can make you less inclined to chew your nails.
Break the Habit and Protect Your Oral Health
Nail biting is a habit that most people are able to break on their own just by focusing on the issue. If you have recently quit or are still in the process of quitting, Jeffrey D. Clark, DDS, can help. Dr. Clark can perform a comprehensive evaluation of your teeth and gums and determine if treatment is needed. You can call Scottsdale Dental Excellence at 480 585 1853 to schedule that appointment.