What was once referred to as simply a bad habit, nail biting or onychophagy is now classified as an oral compulsive habit – that is, a repeated movement of the mouth along the lines of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD. Nail biting is most commonly found in teenagers- with an estimated 45% of all teens biting their nails at one point or another. Thankfully, this dangerous habit generally stops after adolescence, but plenty of adults continue to bite their nails long after adolescence. While it’s not known exactly what causes people to start biting their nails, it is believed that nail biting begins during times of emotional distress as a coping mechanism, and either stops on its own or continues into adulthood. But while we know nail biting is terrible for your nails, did you also know that nail biting is bad for your teeth, too?
When you hear the horror stories of nail biting gone wrong, they usually involve bleeding fingers or bloodborne illnesses. But did you know that nail biting can permanently damage your teeth? Here are a few ways nail biting can cause seriously damage your smile.
Chipped Teeth: Your teeth may be strong, but they’re not meant to cut anything that can’t be digested. Fingernails were not meant to be digested, and biting too hard on a nail can actually chip the tooth!
Worn enamel: When you repeatedly bite your fingernails, the enamel on your teeth flexes. When this happens, you can cause a chip or fracture in the enamel, which is your tooth’s first line of defense against plaque.
Diastema: Diastema is the technical name for gaps between your teeth. When you are constantly using your teeth to pull at fingernails, you can permanently shift your teeth, creating gaps that can only be corrected by orthodontic intervention
Bruxism: Bruxism is unintentionally grinding or clenching your teeth, which can cause or exacerbate temporomandibular joint syndrome (TMJ) because it can cause disk displacement in the temporomandibular joint. It can also cause tooth sensitivity, headaches, recessed gums, and even tooth loss.
Gingivitis: biting your nails can do anything from cause minor cuts in your gums, to cause blood-borne illnesses if bacteria from underneath your nails gets into an oral wound. In extreme cases, this bacteria can cause gingivitis.
If you’re ready to break the nail biting habit but aren’t sure how to go about it there are resources online at sites like the American Academy of Dermatology- or, speak to your physician for some tips. If you are concerned about damage to teeth or gums that may have been caused by nail biting, give Dr. Lederman a call at 516-882-1764.