Between a quarter and a third of all children and nearly half of all teenagers bite their nails.  Whether from nervousness, anxiety, or simple habit, nail biting can have a negative effect on the person’s health. Nails that have been bitten down become ragged and uneven, sometimes damaging the nail bed.  The habit can also lead to a variety of oral health problems.

Young hispanic business woman looking stressed and nervous with hands on mouth biting nails. Anxiety problem.

Nail Biting Affects the Teeth and Gums

Although teeth are tougher than nails, over time, nail biting can cause significant damage to gums and teeth.

Here’s how that can happen:

Bruxism or Teeth Grinding: The nail-biting habit can increase the likelihood of the person developing a chronic teeth-grinding habit.  Teeth grinding can lead to other oral health problems, headaches, and jaw soreness.

Gingivitis: The dirt and germs which transfer from fingernails to the mouth during nail biting can lead to gum disease.

Chipping, Cracking, and Erosion: The friction of the teeth grinding against the nails can gradually wear away the protective enamel, or cause the  teeth to crack or chip.

Malocclusion: Nail biting can cause the teeth to move, leading to malocclusion (abnormality with the coming together of the upper and lower teeth) and gaps between the teeth.

Why Does Nail Biting Happen?

Nervousness, anxiety and boredom seem to be the factors most likely to cause nail biting.  When nail biting becomes a habit, it can be done without even thinking and nail biters frequently don’t even know they’re doing it.  This can make the habit much harder to stop.

Tips to Help Break the Nail-Biting Habit
Here are a few strategies to help break the habit:
Trim your nails:  Short nails are harder to sink your teeth into.  Keeping nails short will offer less to bite and will also serve as a reminder to stop nibbling.
Get a manicure: If you’ve spent the time and money making your nails beautiful, you may be motivated to keep them that way.
Use Nail Polish: Nail polish tastes pretty bad. Even clear polish can act as a great deterrent to nail biting.
Be Aware of your Triggers: Once you become aware of those things which cause the nail biting you can get the habit more under control, eventually stopping it entirely.
Slow and Steady: Stop the habit gradually, one finger at a time.  You can even place some adhesive tape or a Band-Aid over the tip of the fingers, one nail at a time, until there are no more finger nails uncovered.  Once the habit is broken, celebrate and get a manicure.

You Can Do It!

The oral health of our patients is why we’re here, and we want to help you overcome habits that threaten the health of your teeth and gums.