You may have been advised to avoid chewing on hard nuts, and ice cubes as it may chip your teeth. The same warning applies to nail biting. Dental enamel is the strongest tissue in the body. But habitually biting on fingernails may eventually wear the enamel away, and cause other dental problems.
You may bite your nails without realizing you are doing it. Many people bite their nails while involved in another activity, such as reading, watching television, or talking on the phone, or they bite their nails out of habit, boredom or stress. Nail biting affects people of all ages, and it can not only damage your teeth, but may affect your overall health.
Nail biting (technically called Onychophagia) is fairly common:
- About 30 percent of children aged 7-10 bite their nails
- About 45 percent of teenagers bite their nails
- About 25 percent of young adults bite their nails
- Only about five percent of older adults bite their nails
Problems with Nail Biting:
- Front teeth damage – Most nail biters use their front upper and lower teeth. Nails are fairly hard, and the constant pressure applied to those teeth when biting on the nails can result in worn enamel, chipped or broken teeth. It can also contribute to the teeth becoming crooked/misaligned etc.
- Nail biting is not good for teeth with braces either: braces already put pressure on teeth, the additional pressure from nail biting can lead to the weakening of the roots.
- Gum tissue damage – jagged fingernails can cut gum tissue.
- It is unsanitary. If you have broken skin around your nails, it is basically an “open wound”. The two “germiest” places on your body are generally your hands/fingernails and your mouth. Even with frequent hand washing, your fingers are still dirty. Your fingernails are almost twice as dirty as your fingers. A study done by renowned microbiologist Dr. Anthony C Hilton concluded that 25% of men, and 15% of women have a harmful bacteria called enterobacteriaceae living under their nails. Another expert — Dr. David Katz of Yale University — conducted an experiment with his students to test bacteria grow under the fingernails. He concluded that short painted nails have least amount of bacteria growth. Conversely, long unpainted nails had the most growth. Due to the bacteria, not only is there concern for germs being passed from the hands to the mouth, but imagine all the germs from the mouth that can be passed along to broken skin around fingernails. Either way it can provide access for these undesirable germs to your bloodstream.
- Gingivitis – Also known as the first stage of gum disease, gingivitis is a bacterial based condition that often gets its start from plaque build-up. But injury to gum tissue and the introduction of bacteria can also result in gum disease.
- It can be costly: According to the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), nail biting can result in up to $4,000 in additional dental bills over one lifetime.
What treatments are available for nail-biting?
Several treatment measures may help you stop biting your nails. Some focus on behavioral changes and some focus on physical barriers to nail-biting.
- First – be more conscious of your nail biting – try not to bite your nails. Ask others to tell you when you are biting your nails.
- Keep your nails trimmed and filed. Taking care of your nails can help reduce your nail-biting habit.
- Have a manicure regularly or use nail polish. Men can use a clear polish. Wearing artificial nails may help you to stop biting your nails as well.
- Paint a bitter-tasting polish or cream for around your fingernails, such as CONTROL-IT or Thum on your nails. The awful taste will remind you to stop every time you start to bite your nails.
- Try keeping a record of nail-biting. You will become more aware of the times when you bite your nails which may help you to stop biting your nails.
- Substitute another activity, such as squeezing a stress ball or Silly Putty, or drawing/doodling, when you find yourself biting your nails.
- Wear gloves, or put adhesive bandages around your nails, whenever possible to remind you not to bite your nails.
- Snap a rubber band on the inside of your wrist when you start to bite your nails so you have a negative physical response to nail-biting.
If you do have tooth damage from nail biting, give our office a call. We can discuss the options for repairing the damage.