“Stop biting me!” is a direct quote from your fingernails, probably, if they could talk.

Nail-biting is a habit that starts young and, unlike your soggy fingernails, hard to break. We’ve seen people so deep into the habit that they bite their acrylic manicure. So today we’re going to talk about why your dentist cares so much that you’re biting your nails and how to clip that habit for good.

Psychology

Nail-biting usually starts at a young age and diminishes over time. The severity it can also range from a mild habit to a severe case or consequence of OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder). At its most severe, chronic nail-biting is called onychophagia and is classified as an “Other Specified Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorder.” You may also see it referred to as a BFRB, which stands for “body-focused repetitive behavior.”

Those who bite their nails (yes, even the tiny munchkins) are experiencing stronger than average feelings of stress, pleasure, boredom, or shame. Psychologists still aren’t sure the cause of nail-biting, but some studies show that there is sufficient evidence to suggest that, like with other mental health conditions, nail-biting is a result of a genetic disposition. Whether you chronically bite your nails or only nibble from time to time, the habit is damaging several body parts in one fell swoop.

Consequences

It may be difficult to believe, but biting your nails does significant damage to your teeth and mouth. That seems silly considering how hard your teeth are and how soft your nails and the skin around them are, but it’s true.

Chewing on your nails is highly unsanitary, even if you wash your hands regularly. You’re exposing yourself to dangerous and yucky bacteria, especially if your nails are longer or fake, that would not otherwise be introduced into your system. Your mouth is already fighting more than enough bacteria, no need to make it harder!

Besides the “ick” factor, biting your nails can actually crack or chip your teeth! That might seem impossible because of how thin and squishy your fingertips feel, but those characteristics are what make it such a detrimental habit. Our teeth don’t respond well to sustained pressure, it causes them to shift, break, and even lose their gum structure. This is one of the core reasons that braces work. Because your nails are so small, soft, and thin, that means most of the pressure between your teeth isn’t going into the nail, but rather the two teeth are grinding against each other.

Considering that your teeth are actually harder than your bones, it makes sense that regular nail-biting leads to people accidentally filing down their teeth, chipping them, cracking them, losing their teeth, finding their teeth being reabsorbed into their skull. They also develop bruxism (accidental teeth grinding) and induce headaches, gum damage, and tooth sensitivity.

Break Free

Really nothing good comes from biting your nails, but it’s such a bad habit, how do you quit? Luckily for you, we have some suggestions!

  • Get a manicure — while that may sound silly, treating yourself to a nice manicure helps some people from chewing on their nails because they want to keep the manicure looking pristine.
  • Wear gloves — gloves help keep you from being able to access your nails! You can also opt for fun fingertip covers instead if gloves aren’t really your thing.
  • Divert energy — if you find that you’re bored or nervous, try chewing gum or squeezing a stress ball. Send that energy into another, less harmful channel. Fidget spinner, anyone?
  • Paint them with a bad taste — yup! Like how you would train a dog or a small child to stop putting things in their mouths, coat your nails and nail beds with a sour apple taste or something else that will make you pucker and think twice before doing it again. There are plenty of nail-biting treatment polishes online to choose from.
  • Get active — using your muscles and getting outside has been shown to reduce your stress levels significantly. Fresh air and regularly releases those exercise hormones gives your body a natural high that will help you stop biting your nails!
  • Meditation or yoga — taking a class that actively addresses stress relief will lower your stress levels and decrease your likelihood of chewing on your fingertips.

Saratoga Springs Dentistry

If none of these are working, come into Saratoga Springs Dentistry and let us help you with a more personalized plan. If you are a chronic nail biter and haven’t seen the dentist in awhile, you should probably call too. We’re a team of highly trained professionals who can not only help you with your bruxism, but can also other bad habits like nail-biting. Schedule an appointment today at Saratoga Springs Dentistry and let us help!