From a telltale twitch to sweaty palms, we all have different methods of coping with stress, anxiety, and even boredom. Most of these nervous tics are harmless, albeit annoying. Others, such as smoking cigarettes do more harm than good. Then there are those in-between bad habits that would appear to cause no harm. Biting your nails, also called onchophagia, is a prime example. After all, what could be so bad about a DIY manicure?
More than you might think, says Dr. Todd Pizzi, who restores badly damaged teeth using dental crowns in Shrewsbury, MA. Adults aren’t the only ones affected by nail biting, although the habit is less common in those over the age of 30; still, an estimated 15 percent of adults bite their nails. It’s estimated that about half of children and teens between 10-18 years old adopt nail biting at some point.
It can’t really be that bad, can it?
Actually, it can. Over time, nibbling your fingernails subjects your teeth to unnatural stress; this is because most nail biters use their front teeth to do the deed, despite the fact that front teeth are far less suited to chewing than, say, your molars. As a result, the teeth become weakened and more likely to chip or fracture. The effect is compounded in people who wear braces, prolonging the orthodontic treatment time.
Even scarier still is the fact that nail biting could add as much as $4,000 in restorative dental work over the course of a lifetime. Then there’s the fact that even the cleanest fingernails aren’t especially sanitary; dirt, germs, and bacterial beneath your nails are nearly twice as unsanitary as your fingers. And we shudder to think of the stomach problems that can be caused by swallowing dirty fingernail clippings.
Gross! How can I stop biting my nails?
The most obvious answer is to find a more constructive way to deal with feelings of stress, such as deep breathing techniques, yoga, or even meditation. Many of our patients have successfully stopped chewing their nails. We’ve compiled a few of their tips:
- Use a topical product designed to impart a bitter taste. These clear liquids work much like nail polish, but their awful taste deters biting.
- Always keep your fingernails trimmed. No nails = no biting.
- Loop a hair tie or rubber band around your wrist, and snap it if you feel compelled to bite your nails.
Trade your bad habit for a healthy smile. To learn more about restorative dentistry, or to schedule an appointment with one of our doctors, contact us at (508) 842-8838. We welcome patients living in Shrewsbury, Hopkinton, Boylston, Worcester, and the surrounding communities.