Feasting on your finger nails wrecks more than your manicure. According to the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD), a dedicated nail nibbler will spend thousands to repair the dental damage caused by their habit.
Psychiatrists are undecided over whether the need to chew on yourself is an obsessive compulsive disorder or a harmless quirk. But medical professionals do agree that habitual nail biting, which is officially known as “onychophagia,” can harm both your teeth and overall health.
Dings, Dents and Breaks
Some peoples’ nails are rugged and resilient to damage, and chomping on them can cause your teeth to get tiny chips. You can also fracture your teeth’s enamel if you’re frequently stressing it by chewing on tough items like finger nails.
Some people claim that constant nail chewing when they were young has caused their teeth to shift position, leaving them with an overbite or gaps between their teeth. This seems unlikely for anyone but the most obsessive nail biter, or someone who has already has damaged or fragile teeth. That said, if your nail biting ritual includes inserting your nails in between your teeth or thumb sucking, you probably want to stop those activities as soon as possible.
Nail biting is a really bad idea if you’re wearing braces – putting additional stress on teeth that are already in a compromised position can weaken roots and ruin the intended outcome of your orthodontic treatment.
Yum! Pathogenic microorganisms!
Of course many people bite their nails and have no visible dental damage whatsoever. But that doesn’t mean they have nothing to worry about. The most common health problem encountered by nail biters is caused by transporting bacteria from your hands to your mouth.
The average hand is home to about 150 species of bacteria at any given time. And guess where the majority of the bacteria on your hands lives? Correct – under your nails. You might as well suck on a Popsicle made from swamp water.
Chewing your fingernails can result in gum infections, bad breath, and generally compromised dental health. And since the mouth is the gateway to your body, filling it with funky microorganisms on a regular basis is obviously not a great idea.
Nail biters tend to damage their cuticles too. Since nail cuticles are intended to keep moisture and germs out of the body, removing or shredding them isn’t a good idea at all.
Biting your nails can cause problems with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which connects your jawbone to your skull. Symptoms of TMJ disorder include pain in your ear or jaw, painful/difficult chewing, clicking sounds when you move your jaw, or problems in fully opening or closing your mouth.
TMJ problems can be caused by arthritis, injury, a big yawn, teeth grinding, gum chewing or nail biting. the symptoms may go away without treatment, but sometimes may require medical care.
Kicking The Habit
Almost half of all kids bite their nails. Most will do it for a year or two, and then stop. The holdouts will typically keep nibbling until they hit 30 or so years old, which is when most of us just lose our taste for nails.
If you or a loved one is a nail biter, the standard tips for breaking the habit include:
- Keep your nails short and filed. Long or ragged nails trigger the chewing habit for many people.
- Get regular manicures, and consider wearing artificial nails. Many people have no inclination to bite on fake nails.
- Give your hands something to do – squeeze a stress ball, knit, sketch, doodle, fold origami, whatever works for you.
- Bitter-tasting clear nail polishes, available at drug stores and beauty supply shops, are a great way to remind yourself that you really don’t want to bite your nails.
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