Nail biting or Onychophagia is a relatively common habit that affects people of all ages.
There are many theories as to why people bite their nails but mostly it often stems from stress or maybe picked up as just another habit. Whether it is done consciously or subconsciously nail biting affects people of all ages especially kids.
About 30 % of kids from ages 7 to 10 years bite their nails and 45% of teenagers have this habit. Now on the surface nail biting may not seem like a big deal. However, fairly severe consequences can result in both oral and overall health problems.
WHY DO WE GNAW OUR NAILS
Stress and boredom are the main culprits. The habit is often a way to ease anxiety or to keep at least one part of the body occupied while the mind lacks interest. Frustration, boredom and loneliness are added emotional triggers. Biting nails can also be a symptom of a psychological condition such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
EFFECTS OF NAIL BITING ON THE TEETH
According to the Academy of general dentistry, Children or adults who bite their nails could crack, chip or wear down their front teeth from the stress caused by biting. Those who wear braces are at a greater risk of tooth loss and root resorption (shortening of roots)
Nail biting can also lead to bruxism-unintentional grinding or clenching of teeth that can cause facial pain, headaches, tooth sensitivity, recession of gums and tooth loss.
Nail biting can cause flat looking tips of teeth, tooth enamel that is worn off causing extreme sensitivity, popping and cracking of jaw and indentations of the tongue.
Other risks involved are sore, torn or damaged gum tissue caused by jagged, sharp fingernail edges and the spread of bacteria from other body parts to the mouth and from mouth to the nail bed or blood stream.
MEASURES THAT CAN BE TAKEN TO STOP NAIL BITING
Coat your nails with a bitter tasting nail polish. The nasty taste will discourage from biting nails.
Keep nails trimmed short. You will have less of a nail to bite.
Use an alternate technique to manage your stress like yoga, meditation or deep breathing.
Wearing a mouth guard can deter nail biting and help prevent further damage to teeth.
Some dentists also help patients use therapy techniques like learning how to rest the tongue upward with teeth apart and lips shut to avoid tooth damage.
Put a rubber band around your wrist and snap it whenever you get the urge to bite your nails.
Finally if nothing works wear gloves or put self-adhesive bandages on the fingertips so your nails won’t be accessible to bite your nails.
If it is related to OCD or any other psychological problem then counselling or medications will help.