December 27, 2017

Find yourself chomping on your nails? You’re not alone. Nail biting – or as the experts call it, onychophagia –  is a difficult habit to break which has its origins in childhood, and is very common. Nail biting will leave your fingers and nail beds swollen and red. But it’s not just your nails being affected by your biting habit, your teeth are also sustaining damage.

Over half of all children and teenagers bite their nails. Most of them won’t grow out of it. If you’re an adult who bites their nails, you most likely started when you were younger and never grew out of it.

There is no scientific data to prove that nail biting is genetic, but children are more likely to bite their nails if they have a parent who bite theirs, too. Studies have shown that this will happen even if a parent has quit biting their nails before their child is born. At Scott Edwards DDS, we want to keep your teeth healthy, so we want to share why you should be more wary of nail biting, as well as give tips on how to stop.

Reasons to Quit

Those who bite their nails, chew on pencils, or clench their teeth, according to a study by the Academy of General Dentistry, are at a much higher risk of developing bruxism— which is the unintentional grinding of the teeth. General facial pain, headaches, receding gums, tooth loss, and tooth sensitivity are all symptoms and side effects of bruxism.

  • Your nail biting may sometimes not cause permanent damage, but there are definite downsides to it.
  • Your nails will start growing in wrong. When the tissue around your nails is damaged, they will grow in abnormally and look very strange.
  • While your saliva chemical composition allows it to break down fats and other food molecules to aid in your digestion, it does severe damage to the skin around your fingertips if you constantly have them inserted into your mouth. Much like licking your lips leads to them getting chapped, your saliva causes inflammation and corrosion of your skin around your nails.
  • Your smile can be ruined. When you bite your nails you can crack, chip, or even break your teeth, and possibly cause issues for your jaw.
  • Biting your nails will make you sick. Nails are the perfect hideout for germs, and your hands are a hotbed for them. Your chances of getting sick are greatly increased when you put your hands inside your mouth numerous times a day. When you bite your nails you cause damage to the skin around them which creates an easy way for germ to find their way in.

Paronychia is one of the most common forms of infection due to nail biting and it causes pain, redness, swelling, and pus-filled lumps from biting your cuticles—  those narrow crescents of skin that rim the bottom of your nail. Paronychia can stick around for weeks at a time.

Solutions to End Your Nail Biting

Chewing on your nails leaves you with some nasty side effects, but more importantly nail biting is a sign of anxiety and emotional stress— things you should take care of instead of just using their nails as a coping mechanism. You might not see a change overnight, but with a little time and effort there are multiple solutions to end your nail biting habit:

Trimming your nails short and getting regular manicures are both effective remedies. 

  • Trimmed nails are less tempting and satisfying to bite on, and more difficult. Getting regular manicures makes one less likely to bite their nails because they don’t want to ruin the fingers and nails they just sank money into, and because they look so good.

Nail biting is an attempt at stress relief. It’s important to find other ways for you to treat your anxiety.

  • Yoga, qigong, tai chi, deep breathing, and meditation are all activities you to do to help relieve stress and curb your nail biting habit. Keeping your hands occupied with a stress ball, yo-yo, or fidget spinner will help fight the urge to bite too. Chew gum so your mouth has a job to keep it busy with and give yourself something else to do with your nail biting energy.

You won’t bite your nails if they taste awful.

  • Paint them clear or colored, just make sure it is bitter enough to make you not want to taste it in your mouth. This has been seen to be especially helpful in helping children break the cycle. The terrible taste makes everyone think twice before putting their nails in their mouth.

Discover what your nail-biting triggers are. It can be anxiety and stress, or sometimes it can be physical actuators. Having a hangnail or callous might be what prompts you to start chewing. It may be something you do when you’re feeling insecure, hungry, or bored.

  • Learning the cause of your habit will help you to break it, and also help you to find other ways to cope.
  • If none of the steps above are working for you, try wearing gloves or bandages on your fingers. This is foolproof as your nails won’t be accessible to bite. If you don’t have time for gloves in your daily routine, there are stickers made specifically to over nails to help in breaking the habit.

Take it a little at a time if you’re having trouble just flat out quitting. Set small goals for yourself and try to reach them. Start with not biting your nails for just one day. And then see if you can do two, and then three, and on up to a week. Or start as small as you can and choose just one nail not to bite like your pinky. After you’ve kept it up for awhile put another finger on the no bite list until all your digits are off limits.

If after trying these steps you’re still having trouble breaking the habit, it may be the sign of a deeper emotional or psychological problem. It also means it’s time to consult with Dr. Scott Edwards.

For your physical and emotional wellbeing, nail biting is a habit you must break. If you have any questions about the toll it is taking on your oral health, please feel free to ask next time you’re in at our East Memphis or Midtown location.