Nail biting, known as “onychophagia,” is a habit that can cause some harm to your teeth and overall oral health.

Some people’s nails can become so tough and resilient to damage that chewing on they can cause your teeth to get tiny chips or fracture your enamel.  Some people even believe that chewing on their teeth as children cause their teeth to shift. Simply put, if you have a habit of chewing on your nails you may want to consider stopping as soon as possible.

Nail biting can be especially bad if you are currently wearing braces. Adding additional stress to those pearly whites on top of the stress of the braces can weaken the roots and ruin the outcome you were expecting.

On the flip side some people who chew their nails may not experience any visible damage but this doesn’t mean you have a clean slate. The most common issue for nail biting is transporting bacteria to your mouth. The hand on average has roughly 150 different species of bacteria at any given time. To top it all off the majority of all that bacteria lives under your nails.

Transporting these microorganisms can cause gum infections, bad breath, and compromise your oral health. To top it all off biting your nails can cause some damage to the temporomandibular joint or TMJ. This is what connects your jawbone to the skull.

Symptoms of TMJ can include pain in your ear or jaw, difficult chewing, popping or clicking sounds when moving your jaw, or difficult simply opening or closing your mouth. TMJ can be cause by not only nail biting but also from arthritis, injury, a large yawn, teeth grinding and even gum chewing.

It is common for a lot of people to begin biting their nails only to stop on their own a year or two later. The rest of them continue chewing until around age thirty or so. If you or a loved one have a habit of biting nails here are a few things you can do to help break the habit.

  • Keep the nails short and filed. Long and ragged nails often cause people to feel the need to chew.
  • Get regular manicures or get artificial nails since chewing on these can be difficult.
  • Keep your hands busy. Squeeze a stress ball, knit, stretch, doodle, fold laundry, play videogames or whatever else works for you.
  • Many drugstores also offer a nail polish that tastes bitter cause you to not want to chew on them any longer.

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