Everyone deals with anxiety and nervousness differently, and there are some methods that are more helpful than others.

Today I’m sharing seven nervous habits that can be harmful to your oral health and can interfere with your orthodontic treatment.

Biting your fingernailschew fingernails

Nail biting is the most common type of nervous habit, especially in children ages 10 to 18. About 50 percent of children bite their nails at some point, according to a Medical Daily article. Compulsive nail biting has a name: onychophagia. Although it can develop out of habit, it’s often a sign of anxiety.

This habit leads to more damage than just wrecking a manicure. It can lead to bleeding, bacterial infections, and warts around the nail bed.

The risk of cold and other infections increases when you bite your nails, because doing so causes you to spread germs from your fingers to your mouth. This can cause harm to your teeth.

Nail biting while you’re in orthodontic treatment can damage your appliances. Vigorous nail biters have been known to apply such pressure to their teeth that they push them out of alignment over time.

Grinding and clenching your teeth

These habits are just plain awful for your oral health. Clenching and grinding during the daytime can be a reaction to stress, but some people clench and grind their teeth in their sleep. It is believed that many cases result from teeth that are missing or out of alignment.

Teeth grinding can cause teeth to prematurely wear. Have you ever seen someone whose teeth look quite blunt, as though the bottoms of the teeth have been filed evenly? Those are the teeth of a grinder. Grinding and jaw clenching can cause teeth to crack and break, which could lead to the need for crowns and even root canals, according to a Health article. It also can lead to temporomandibular joint disorder.

Sometimes orthodontic treatment can help eliminate the problem by getting teeth into alignment. Other treatments include night guards to protect the teeth while you sleep, or even Botox injections in the muscles to reduce the amount of force.

Sucking on hard candies

There is nothing that washes your teeth in sugar like suckers and hard candies. The harmful bacteria in your mouth feed off of these sugars and use them to form plaque and tartar, which can lead to cavities. These sugars remain in your mouth for 20 minutes after you’ve consumed them, which means their harmful effects linger that much longer after you’ve eaten the candy.

If you have braces and you bite or chew on hard candies, you run the risk of damaging your orthodontic appliances. That means in addition to increasing your risk of cavities, you can set back your orthodontic treatment.

Enjoying candy in moderation is fine, as long as you look for sugarless options and are careful not to chew them if you wear braces.

Licking/biting lips

Excessively licking your lips exposes them to digestive enzymes, which can damage the skin and lead to dermatitis and swelling.

Lip biting as a response to stress can lead to the development of fibromas, which are firm, flesh colored growths. These sometimes must be removed surgically.

Biting your lips also can cause your front teeth to become sensitive. If you have brackets and arch wires on your teeth, you increase the risk of causing abrasions to your lips.

Chewing on the inside of your cheeks

It seems like we’ve all been there at one point: You’re concentrating heavily on a project or assignment and you find yourself nibbling at the inside of your cheeks or lips. Then you tear a tiny flap of skin loose and gnaw on that to remove it completely. Now the inside of your cheek feels lumpy and you keep chewing away at it in an attempt to even it out. Before you know it, you’ve developed a tender, sore spot inside your mouth. That is no fun.

This nervous habit can lead to chronic inflammation and scarring over time. Once the area is inflamed, it becomes easier to bite it unintentionally, which is painful, given that the area already is sore.

Chewing gum

We certainly recommend that you avoid chewing gum when you’re in orthodontic treatment, for a variety of reasons. If you have brackets and arch wires, we don’t want you getting gum caught in your appliances. If you’re in Invisalign treatment, every minute that you wear your aligners counts. You can’t chew gum with the aligners on your teeth, and removing them just to chomp on gum means you lose valuable treatment time.

Overuse of the jaw muscles from chewing gum can lead to or aggravate TMJ disorder.

Chewing on foreign objects

Sometimes when you’re deep in thought while working on a research paper or taking notes in class or during a business meeting, you might subconsciously find yourself chewing on the end of your pen or pencil.

This nervous or anxious habit causes bacteria to spread from your mouth to the object and vice versa. It also can lead to tooth wear, tooth sensitivity, jaw pain, facial pain and headaches.

Prolonged chewing of pens and pencils can lead the tooth wear to become tooth fractures in extreme cases if you aren’t careful.

Breaking those bad habits

Now that we’ve identified these harmful habits, it’s time to address ways in which to eliminate them from your life. The first step is having a desire to quit the habit, says New York City psychologist Carol Goldberg.

Once you’ve reached the point where you want to make a change, think of activities you can do to replace the harmful habit. If you’re a nail biter, you might take up a hobby that requires you to use your hands, such as some sort of craft. Perhaps you can keep a stress ball handy to squeeze when you’re under pressure.

Another approach is to identify what triggers your nervous habit and see if you can remove it from your life. You might recruit a friend to help keep you accountable when you are seen exhibiting the harmful habit. That friend can bring attention to it and remind you to perform your competing behavior or exercise in its place.

I’m particularly interested in helping you break these harmful habits if you’re in orthodontic treatment or recently completed treatment. Breaking these habits can protect the time and expense you’ve put into improving your smile.

Please call my office today if you would like to learn more about orthodontic treatment.

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