Nail biting is one of the most common habits among both adults and children. Also known as onychophagy or onychophagia, it’s estimated that about 25-30 to percent of the population are nail-biters. While on the surface, it may appear rather harmless, chronic nail biting can have big consequences for your stomach, your nails, and your teeth! Learn more below from our Salisbury NC dentist.
How Nail Biting Damages the Enamel
Fingernails are made of a tough protective protein called alpha-keratin, the same material that makes up hooves, hair, horns, and claws. Keratin is extremely durable, so it should not come as a surprise that gnawing on it regularly can start to erode the enamel on your teeth. When you enamel becomes thinner, your teeth will become more sensitive to temperatures and pain, and you will be at a higher risk for developing cavities.
More alarmingly, excessive chewing on surfaces like fingernails can actually fracture the enamel, which, despite being very hard, is also very brittle. Some patients even develop tiny chips by fingernail biting.
How Nail Biting Damages the Jaw
In some instances, consistent nail biting can cause Temporomandibular Joint Disorder, or TMD, a painful condition resulting in jaw pain, headaches, and a popping or clicking sensation when the jaw is opened (due to it sliding out of alignment). Severe TMD and its related disorder, TMJ, can prevent patients from opening and closing the jaw properly.
Nail Biting and the Risk of Infection
One of the most dangerous results of nail biting is that it brings the bacteria under your fingernails in contact with your mouth. It’s been shown that the space beneath your nails can harbor as many as 150 different species of bacteria, and allowing them direct entryway into the mouth can increase your risk for illnesses, gingivitis (gum disease), halitosis (bad breath), and a host of other problems. Children and adults who bite their teeth may suffer from pinworms, whose microscopic eggs may be living under the nail bed and then transferred into the mouth.
Need Help with Nail Biting or Other Issues? Call Our Salisbury Dentist
There are many ways to stop biting your nails, the easiest of which is applying a bitter-tasting solution, available at most pharmacies, to your nails. If this fails to work, some patients find it easier to avoid biting when wearing a mouthguard, orthodontic retainer, or orthodontic aligner (the most popular brand being Invisalign). If you need help with nail biting or any other oral-related issue, please contact our Salisbury dentist office today to set up an appointment!