Do you find yourself chewing on your nails? You’re definitely not alone. Nail biting – or as the experts call it, onychophagia – is a difficult habit to break which has its origins in childhood. Sadly, 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. And amazingly, most of them won’t grow out of it.
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.
Solutions to end your nail biting
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, tai chi, deep breathing, and meditation are all activities you 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 coloured, 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.
- 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.
Some people find that wearing a mouth guard can deter nail biting and help prevent further damage to teeth. Some dentists can also help nail biters use therapy techniques, like learning how to rest the tongue upward with teeth apart and lips shut to avoid tooth damage.