It’s not uncommon to bite your nails now and again. But is it a serious problem if someone does it all the time? And can biting your nails hurt your teeth? Also called onychophagia, nail biting is a behavior usually brought on by anxiety, and may be a temporary issue for some people. However, for others, nail biting can turn into a lifelong habit that's damaging to both nails and teeth. Here’s what you should know, including tips for how to change the behavior.
Does Biting Your Nails Hurt Your Teeth? Yes—and Here’s Why
We often think of our teeth as being incredibly strong, but certain actions can weaken their integrity and cause additional damage.
Tooth Fracture or Damage
Biting your nails can exert excessive force on your teeth, especially if you have a habit of biting hard. This repetitive pressure can lead to chipped or cracked teeth, which may require dental treatment to repair.
The continuous contact between your teeth and nails wears down enamel over time. Enamel is the protective outer layer of your teeth, and its erosion can make your teeth more sensitive and susceptible to cavities.
Nail-biting might also irritate and damage the soft tissue of your gums. This causes sore or swollen gums potentially resulting in gum recession, exposing the roots of your teeth.
Spread of Bacteria
Your nails harbor a significant number of bacteria and other microorganisms. By biting your nails, you transfer these germs directly into your mouth, increasing the risk of oral infections.
Habitual nail biting can contribute to temporomandibular joint (TMJ) issues. Repeated jaw movements and pressure often strain the joint, leading to pain, clicking, or difficulty in jaw movement.
Braces or Dental Work Issues
If you have braces, nail biting can damage the orthodontic appliances and slow down the teeth straightening process. Similarly, if you have dental restorations like crowns or veneers, biting your nails may increase the risk of damage to these restorations.
Additionally, biting your nails too short or unevenly can cause nail injuries and infections around the nail bed, potentially affecting your overall hand health.
Clip the Nail-Biting Habit and Save Your Teeth
If it’s challenging to quit biting your nails and you’ve experienced dental issues as a result, consult with a dentist or health care professional for guidance and appropriate strategies. Some of their suggestions to curb the habit may include:
- Identify triggers or situations that lead to nail-biting and try to avoid them.
- Keep your nails trimmed and well-groomed to reduce the temptation to bite.
- Use bitter-tasting nail polishes or deterrent products to discourage nail biting.
- Practice stress-reducing techniques, as stress often exacerbates the habit.
- Seek support from friends, family, or a professional if nail biting becomes a persistent issue.