Find your hand creeping toward your mouth when you’re stressed out or bored? Nail biting is a problem for people of all ages – and it could be wreaking havoc on your teeth.
Simply put, your nails are made of tougher stuff than your teeth should be dealing with. And tooth damage isn’t the only reason nail biting is advised against by your healthcare professionals.
If you’ve been biting your nails for years, you know about the disadvantages – you’ve experienced them firsthand. But it can be incredibly difficult to drop the habit for good. Many nail biters have had the habit for decades, or even since they had teeth to bite with.
That’s not to say that quitting is impossible. With some of the tips below, you can start reducing your biting and better protecting both your nails and your teeth.
Why is Biting Your Nails Bad for Your Teeth?
Nails are made of a tough protein called keratin, the same protein that makes up hooves and horns in animals. With all that we say about not using teeth as tools, it’s probably clear that biting nails falls into a similar category. Keratin is too strong for your teeth, and chewing on nails could lead to dental problems like these –
- Chipped or cracked tooth
- Broken tooth
- With chronic nail biting, potential jaw problems and TMJ pain
Those aren’t the only downsides to biting. In addition to changing the appearance of your nails and fingers, biting can lead to nails growing in strangely or the tissue around your nails becoming damaged.
Biting can also lead to illness. Your hands touch so many surfaces each day, all of them with their own germs. These germs are especially likely to hide out under your nails, where there are hidden crevices for them to lurk. Putting your fingers in your mouth provides bacteria with the perfect opportunity to enter your system. If you damage the skin when you bite and have an open wound, this can also lead to infection.
Easiest Ways for Nail Biters to Quit the Habit
Since nail biting is such a widespread habit, there are many different approaches to quitting. What might work well for one person might not necessarily do the trick for you. Look through the tactics listed below and see which ones sound like they might work well for your needs.
- Cut your nails as short as possible – If you aren’t able to easily latch onto your nails with your teeth, you won’t enjoy biting them as much. Don’t cut them too short, which can cause irritation, but keep them close to the nailbed.
- Coat your nails with something bitter – There’s a variety of products that offer a bitter taste that will help you keep your nails out of your mouth. These polishes should be painted on your nails to help dissuade you from chewing your nails.
- Get a manicure – If you spend on your nails, you’ll be more inclined to keep them looking great and lengthen the life of your manicure. And men can get manicures too! Just skip the polish – you’ll still walk out of the nail salon with nicer nails.
- Wear gloves when possible – If you cover up your nails, you just can’t chew on them. We know that this isn’t possible for everyone, depending on your job – but there are other stickers and materials you can use to cover your nails and make them less accessible.
- Pay attention to your biting triggers – We all have different things that drive us to bad habits. Try to be very conscious of when you bite your nails, and take note of what you’re doing or how you’re feeling at the time. Try keeping a biting record for a week so that you can look back at trends. Identifying the cause of biting will make it easier for you to remove that trigger from your life.
- Find other ways to stay busy – Many nail biters are also fidgeters. Find something that can occupy your hands. People use stress balls, worry stones, clickable pens, or even fidget spinners. It can also be helpful to chew (sugar-free!) gum or suck on mints to keep your mouth busy as well.
- Quit bit by bit – Cold turkey isn’t for everyone. Try setting smaller goals for yourself – pick one hand to stop biting first, or even a single nail. Add in more nails as you get more comfortable.
- Tend to your cuticles – Many biters do so because they have snagged cuticles or rough spots at the base of their nails. Keeping your cuticles in good shape will help you prevent this. Soak your cuticles, and then gently push them back, toward your hand. Never cut your cuticles, which can cause additional problems and actually worsen future snags.
- Keep a nail clipper on hand – Broken or jagged nails can be very annoying – keep clippers around so that you can tend to them right away and so that you don’t go in with your teeth.
- Consider therapy – Nail biting can be an extremely ingrained reaction to stress. In some cases, it requires therapy to help you take that final step and quit for good.