Nail Biting: It’s More Than Just a Bad Habit

Nail biting.


Perhaps you do it when you nervously wait for your job interview. Maybe you spot a rough corner of a nail and want to smooth it without searching for nail clippers. Or perchance you do it without thinking, as you watch yet another online cat video.


Whatever the case, it’s time you kicked the habit.


Is Nail Biting That Bad?

Many people pick up nail biting as children. Curiosity, boredom, stress, or imitation lead children to chew their nails or bite at their cuticles. While some children drop the habit as they learn other coping mechanisms, others continue well into adulthood. The longer the habit continues, the more damage it causes.


Greater Risk of Disease

Human skin is teeming with bacteria. While washing your hands regularly can reduce the bacterial count on your hands by as much as 58%, it still doesn’t account for the remaining millions of germs on your hands.


And the nail bed is particularly difficult to keep clean, as it often traps dirt and debris that would otherwise wash off with a little soap and water. Every time you bite your nails, you introduce millions of potentially harmful bacteria to your mouth. Essentially, you eat the germs from your latest trip to the gas station, the toilet, or the bus stop whenever you nibble your nails.


Greater Risk of Infection
If you regularly chew your nails, the chances are you chew the skin around your nails as well. The germs in your saliva can easily find their way into the tiny abrasions or tears in the skin. This could result in swelling, redness, pus, and infection around your nail.


Minor infections may require antibiotics and careful cleaning to heal. For severe infections, a doctor may need to drain the wound or even perform surgery to remove as much of the infected material as possible.


Damaged Teeth and Jaw
Your nails may seem like a soft surface (compared to a pen or pencil), but they are still hard enough to damage your teeth. The constant chewing wears away the enamel, leaving your teeth vulnerable to break.


Nail biting is also bad for your jaw. The curvature of the nail creates an uneven chewing surface for your teeth. Over time, this pushes your teeth and jaw out of alignment.


Additionally, if you regularly chew your nails, the constant motion puts pressure on your jaw joint, contributing to Temporomandibular (TM) disorder. This leads to pain in the jaw or face, as well as clicking, popping, or grating sounds when you open or close your mouth. If left untreated, your jaw could become “stuck” or “locked” in the open or closed position.


Furthermore, nail biters are also at greater risk of bruxism (the unintentional grinding or clenching of the teeth). Bruxism comes with its own list of symptoms, including jaw pain, chronic headaches, and sensitive teeth.


While both TM disorder and Bruxism are treatable, you may end up spending thousands of dollars in additional dental bills because of nail biting.


What You Can Do to Kick the Habit
If you don’t have extra money to spend on health or dental care, then it’s time to stop chewing your nails. It may take time to break the habit, but the following techniques may help you get started:


  • Carefully trim and file your nails. This improves the physical appearance of your nails, and it minimizes the urge to bite your nails to “perfect” them. If you want to spend a little more on your nail care, consider having a manicure. While you’re there, ask about artificial nails that protect your natural nails until they grow out again.
  • Make chewing your nails an unpleasant or difficult experience. Bitter tasting nail polish, or even over-the-counter treatments such as CONTROL-IT or Thum will remind you not to bite your nails. Or, cover your nails with gloves, bandages, or stickers that will make nail biting difficult.
  • Be more conscious of the habit. Some people don’t always realize they bite their nails, making it difficult to stop. If needed, ask your family and friends to remind you whenever you bite your nails so you can make the conscious effort to leave your nails alone.


Keep in mind that nail biting can also be a sign of obsessive compulsive disorder or other mental conditions. If you bite your nails due to anxiety or stress, you may need to seek psychological help to break the habit.


Check Up With Your Edmonton Dentist
In addition to kicking your nail biting habit, don’t forget to speak to your dentist in Edmonton at Westmount Dental Centre about the health of your teeth. Simply stopping the habit won’t be enough to restore lost enamel or realign teeth, so ask about treatment and what you can do to fix your smile. For more information on oral hygiene in Edmonton, call Westmount Dental Centre at 780-454-1269.

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