Nail-bitingPatients and parents ask me lots of great questions when they come in for an initial consultation, but there’s one question that doesn’t get asked often enough: Will biting my fingernails harm my teeth?

Today I will answer that question. The short answer is yes. Following are eight reasons why and how biting your nails can cause damage to your teeth and gums.

  1. This unsightly habit can wear down your teeth over the course of time.

Making your teeth work hard to gnaw away parts of your fingernails and even the skin surrounding them creates additional wear and tear. Doing so can cause premature wear of your tooth enamel and create uneven biting surfaces.

  1. Nail biting can cause or worsen problems with your temporomandibular joint.

Temporomandibular joint disorder can cause you to experience headaches, jaw pain, and locking and popping of your jaw. If you already battle with temporomandibular joint disorder, you can worsen the issue with the pressure applied to the teeth and jaws when pressing your fingers against your teeth to bite them.

  1. Biting your nails introduces lots of additional germs to your mouth.

Think about all the things your fingers touch during the course of the day. Each time you bite your fingernails, you might as well be licking every door knob, staircase railing and person’s hand you’ve shaken that day. Because of all the germs your hands come into contact with, nail biting leads to an increased risk of contracting colds and other infections, according to information posted on mayoclinic.org.

  1. Fingernail biting can cause damage to your soft tissue and lead to infection.

Biting your nails doesn’t produce the same results as clipping them or filing them with a nail file or emery board. Biting them leaves rough, uneven edges and each time you bring those jagged edges close to your mouth, there is the possibility of cutting your gums. Remember what I just said in No. 3 about germs? Germs and cuts don’t make a good combination.

  1. Biting your nails can cause teeth to become misaligned.

Think about orthodontic treatment: we apply prescribed forces to your teeth so we can move them into their proper position. Biting your nails comes with its own set of forces, and they can move your teeth in undesirable ways. The constant pressure against your teeth as you bite your nails can push teeth inward or cause them to rotate slightly.

  1. It can slow orthodontic treatment and weaken tooth roots.

This is an eye-opener for many patients, because one of the most common questions we’re asked during initial orthodontic consultations is “When will I get my braces off?”

If you want to help ensure your treatment doesn’t get delayed, don’t bite your nails. This poor habit applies additional pressure to your teeth, which can slow the prescribed movements we’re trying to achieve through orthodontic treatment, and it can weaken the roots of your teeth.

  1. It can result in higher dental costs over the course of a lifetime.

The Academy of General Dentistry estimates that people who are chronic nail biters may accumulate an extra $4,000 in dental bills over the course of their lifetime, according to the popular health website Mercola.com.

  1. It impacts your quality of life.

A study published in 2014 found that those who routinely gnaw away at their fingernails report quality of life impairment at a greater rate than those who don’t have the unsanitary habit. This could come from the embarrassment they feel over the appearance of their fingernails, as well as the tension they experience when they fight the urge to bite their nails, according to Mercola.com.

Nail Biting Facts & Statistics

If you bite your nails, you’re not alone. Some estimates suggest that 30 percent of children, 45 percent of teenagers, 25 percent of young adults, and 5 percent of older adults bite their nails.

Nail biting is most common during puberty, and it is more common among boys than girls after age 10.

This poor oral habit became classified as a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder by the American Psychiatric Association in 2012, according to Mercola.com. However, most young adults who bite their nails do so out of boredom or due to stress, not because of a psychological disorder.

How to Break the Nail Biting Habit

If you bite your nails, it’s time to find a way to eliminate the habit. Here are some tips.

  • Keep nails trimmed short to eliminate the temptation of biting them.
  • Pay attention to how you’re feeling when you bite your nails. Understand what triggers you, and you may be on your way to finding better alternatives of coping with what is going on.
  • Address the underlying causes. You might do this by going to therapy, practicing breathing techniques, meditation, or yoga.
  • Try over-the-counter products that you can paint onto your nails and cuticles. These often pack a bitter taste as a deterrent.
  • Place gloves, adhesive bandages or electrical tape on your fingertips.
  • Start participating in activities that keep your hands occupied, such as playing a musical instrument, knitting or arts and crafts.
  • Get a manicure. Sometimes this is a deterrent because once your nails look nice, you won’t want to mess them up.
  • Use nail polish. Men can use clear nail polish.
  • Some women have acrylic nails applied to prevent them from biting their natural nails.
  • Practice stress-management techniques to help control the circumstances that prompt you to bite your nails.
  • Wear a rubber band on your wrist and snap it when you begin to bite your nails to create a negative response to the habit.
  • Dip your nails in nail polish remover every morning. The bad taste can be a good deterrent.

Recruit your friends to help you kick the habit. Accountability is a powerful tool. Tell your friends you’re working to stop biting your fingernails, and ask them to bring it to your attention when they see you partaking in the forbidden habit.