When you’re nervous, stressed, or just bored and fidgety, do you find your hand creeping towards your mouth? You’re not alone! Nail biting is an extremely common habit, with some figures estimating up to 45% of us gnawing away at our nails at one point or another in our lives. Though it usually begins in childhood and is something we tend to outgrow by our twenties, many people find themselves struggling to break the nail biting habit well into adulthood. But nails and cuticles aren’t the only things getting roughed up when we chew them – our teeth can too!
Here at Christopher Cooley DDS, your overall oral health is important to us. Nail biting can not only leave your fingers and nail beds red, swollen, and painful, it can also increase your risk for developing bruxism, or the unintentional grinding of your teeth. This can lead to tooth sensitivity, receding gums, headaches, facial pain, and even tooth loss. Need more reasons to drop your habit? We’ve outlined a few below, as well as some tips and hints on how to successfully stop biting your nails and keep your fingers and smile healthy!
Nail biting can wear down your teeth
When you bite your nails regularly, it creates continuous stress on your teeth. This can lead to a breakdown in the enamel, the protective outer layer of the teeth. Enamel is the hardest tissue in the body, and incredibly robust, but even so, it will not grow back once it’s gone. A loss of enamel can eventually cause tooth erosion. Wear on your teeth over time can also cause misalignment, with the teeth moving and shifting into less than desirable positions.
Nail biting can cause chipped teeth
According to the Academy of General Dentistry, biting your nails can crack, chip, or wear down the front teeth from the stress caused by biting. For patients in braces, this puts teeth at an even greater risk for root resorption (a shortening of the roots) or tooth loss, since braces are already putting increased pressure on the teeth.
Nail biting can cause problems with the jaw
When you bite your nails excessively, it puts undue stress on your jaw. The jaw, like any other joint in the body, is susceptible to excessive strain. If left untreated over time, you can develop issues such as temporomandibular joint disorder, or TMJ. TMJ is known to cause pain in the jaw, as well as headaches, muscle pain in the neck and face, noisy joints, and locking of the jaw. All in all, a pretty miserable experience you want to avoid if you can!
Nail biting can affect your overall health
As a dentist, Dr. Cooley tends to focus on your dental health, but nail biting can have a detrimental effect on your overall health, something our team also cares about! Nails are a perfect hideout for germs, and your hands are a well-known hotbed for them. We’ve all been told since we were children that washing our hands is one of the first and best lines of defense against illness, and that’s because your hands pick up hitchhiking germs whenever they touch something. Putting your hands to your mouth numerous times in a day greatly increases your chances of catching a rogue virus, and biting your nails damages the skin around them, giving germs an even easier gateway.
Now that you know the nasty side effects that can come with a nail biting habit, how can you kick it? It can be a difficult task since it develops into a bit of a coping mechanism in many people. The good news is a little perseverance can go a long way – breaking a habit only takes about 21 days! With time, effort, and some clever solutions in place, you can be on your way to unbitten nails in no time.
Take time to nail down your triggers
Think about what your nail biting triggers are – stress and anxiety? Boredom? Do you have a hard time leaving hangnails alone? Learning the cause of your habit will help you to break it, and also help you to find other ways to cope.
Keep your nails looking nice
Trimming your nails short and getting regular manicures are effective places to start when you’re working to cut back on your habit of putting your fingers in your mouth. When you’ve put time and money into making your nails look nice, you’re a lot more likely to leave them alone.
Find your inner calm
Whatever it starts as, nail biting often evolves into an attempt at stress relief. Look for other ways to manage your anxiety, such as yoga, deep breathing, or meditation. If you find yourself chewing on your nails when you’re bored or your hands are unoccupied, keep them busy with a stress ball, yo-yo, or fidget spinner. Do you struggle with a little bit of an oral fixation? Give your mouth a job to do with chewing gum instead of biting your nails. The busier you keep your hands and mouth, the less time and temptation you’ll have to indulge your habit.
Make your nails unappetizing
For hardcore habits, there are nail polishes widely available in both clear and colored options that make your nails taste absolutely awful. The terrible taste lingers long after you get your mouth near it, and its bitterness is effective in helping children and adults both break a nail biting habit. Once you taste it, you’ll think twice about putting your fingers anywhere near your mouth!
Remember Rome wasn’t built in a day
You don’t have to go cold turkey! Set small goals for yourself by taking it a day at a time. If you can go without biting your nails for a day or two, you can do it for a day or two more! Reward yourself if you make it a week, then another week – manicures, rings, or bracelets are a great motivation to keep your hands out of your mouth. Remember that you only have to hit that three week mark to break a habit and make a new habit stick. If you fall off the wagon and bite a nail or two, just get back on and try again!
We love to see you smile
Whatever the reason for your nail biting habit, it’s important to consider the toll it’s taking on your dental health. If you’re a chronic nail biter, why not schedule an appointment with Dr. Cooley to learn more about the effects it can have on your smile? Our Germantown office offers five-star service to all our patients, and we’ll be happy to help you kick the nail biting habit. Click here or give us a call today to keep your fingers out of your mouth and a smile on your face!