The clinical name for nail biting is “onychophagy” or “onychophagia” and it is categorized as a parafunctional activity, where one uses their mouth for an activity other than speaking, eating, or drinking.
Twenty to 30 percent of Americans are nail-biters – and 45% of teens subscribe to this unhealthy habit.
Biting your nails is harmful in a few ways. First, it’s an outward sign of anxiety which doesn’t make for a good first impression. Second, it brings damage to your cuticles and the surrounding skin. Lastly, well, I’ll get to that in a second.
The first two are usually reversible and quite frankly not in my expertise (awkward dentist alert), but the third can be permanent and somewhat serious. I’m talking about the potential deterioration of your oral health and hygiene. Nail biters are at risk of:
Shifting and Gaps
Teeth move around liberally if given the right conditions. The pressure of biting through hard keratin can absolutely cause a shift. A gap pushed open between the two front teeth is most common.
Wearing, Chipping and Cracking
Teeth are resilient, but eventually, the enamel will break down and expose the softer inner-tooth. Once you have worn down your incisors, you are much more likely to force a chip or crack.
Chronic Teeth Grinding
Bruxism is the unintentional grinding or clenching of teeth that have been linked to nail-biting. Bruxism may cause facial pain, headaches, tooth sensitivity, recessed gums, and tooth loss.
Dirt and bacteria readily accumulate under your fingernails. Biting may introduce harmful agents into your oral ecosystem which puts you at risk of gum disease.
The germs on your fingers turn into the plaque on your teeth and unless you have superb oral hygiene habits, you may be fueling the dragon breath fire.
Stopping isn’t easy so here are some methods on how to get going. It’ll make a great New Year’s resolution.