Nail Biting And Oral Health: Risks and Solution

Repeated nail-biting is among the common causes of various oral health problems, such as gum disease, tooth damage, and more. If you’re a nail-biter yourself, here are the top reasons why you should put an end to this habit. Read on.

Why Do People Bite Their Nails?

Nail-biting or onychophagia is a type of body-focused repetitive behavior that involves biting one’s fingernails and/or the skin surrounding the nails. The habit often comes unconsciously and may be triggered by various factors, such as stress, extreme moments of concentration, and even boredom.

While there is no exact number as to how many nail biters are there, researchers estimate that about 20 to 30% of children 7 to 10-years old are nail biters, while about 45% of teenagers also have the same pattern of behavior. 

Normally, the habit is expected to decrease as one matures. The eventual cessation of this behavior comes naturally until the person outgrows it completely. However, there are also cases where people maintain the habit despite reaching adulthood.

To date, there is no exact answer as to why this body-focused repetitive behavior happens. However, scientists have proposed different theories about this. Some studies claim that NB is anxiety-related. Others, contradict this idea by interposing that the behavior occurs as a result of boredom or when one is simply concentrated on something, such as when trying to solve a difficult problem or engaged in deep thought. In a 2008 study, researchers also observe that NB may also indicate underlying emotional disorders. 

Can Nail Biting Affect My Teeth?


While nail-biting may appear harmless, it can actually bring tons of health risks to a person when repeatedly done over time. The habit is especially a cause of worry in the field of dentistry. When ignored or left untreated, chronic nail-biting can cause various oral health problems. Among them include:

  • Broken or chipped teeth

Tooth enamel is considered the strongest substance in the body. Compared to our nails, the former is tougher and more durable. Yet, despite its remarkable strength that exceeds even our bones, tooth enamel may still succumb to repeated nail-biting. Over time, the force and friction of the nails against the teeth may cause the tooth enamel to crack, chip, or even break.

When this happens, we may experience increased sensitivity to cold and hot drinks, a throbbing pain when chewing, or even swelling in the gum area. 

A broken or chipped tooth cannot heal on its own. You’ll need the expert help of dentists to get it fixed, either by getting dental bonding, fillings, crowns, or undergoing a root canal treatment.

  • Teeth alignment and shape issues

Aside from possible chips and breaks, repeated nail-biting may also mess up with the shapes and alignments of our teeth. Whenever we bite or chew our nails, we put a significant amount of pressure on our teeth and even jawbones. Over time, this may cause our teeth to become deformed or move out from their proper alignment. 

In one study, researchers observed a prevalence of facial alterations and dental malocclusions, among adolescents with deleterious oral habits (DOH), such as nail biting, object biting, and cheek/lip biting.

To fix dental malocclusions, your dentist may recommend getting braces or even undergoing surgery.

  • Gum disease

Nail-biting makes our teeth and gums vulnerable to bacterial infection. As we chew our nails, we may hurt our gums and leave open wounds on the surface. Since our hands are also often the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, putting them in direct contact with our mouths exposes your gum wounds to such bacteria, resulting in gum diseases, such as gingivitis and periodontitis.

This will often leave our gums red, swollen, and even painful. If you suspect gum disease, it’s best to consult a dentist right away.

  • Bruxism

Bruxism is the medical term used for the occasional and unconscious practice of grinding one’s teeth. The condition usually occurs during sleep and may cause tooth damage, headaches, and even jaw pain.

In a 2015 study, researchers observed that people who experience anxiety due to stressful social situations display bruxism symptoms. Since nail-biting is often associated with anxiety, doing the same regularly may establish an automatic response whenever one confronts a stressful situation, resulting in a higher risk of developing bruxism. 

  • Bad breath

The consistent, unpleasant smell in your mouth is not just a result of what you’ve just eaten; it is mainly due to bacterial growth. Since bacteria can easily hide and stay under your nails, putting your fingers into your mouth will only expose your gums and teeth to possible bacterial infection, leading to bad breath.

How can Nail-Biting be Stopped or Treated?

Putting an end to nail-biting isn’t an easy feat. Yet, the task isn’t also impossible. There are tips and tricks that one can take advantage of to lessen the urge of doing the habit, and eventually, put a stop to the regular practice of NB completely. These are:

  • Cut your nails regularly. The smaller your fingernails are, the lesser the chances that you’ll have the urge to bite them. And even if you do, there isn’t enough room to fit your teeth. Eventually, you may outgrow the urge and put a stop to your habit.
  • Identify your triggers. Knowing the same will allow you to be conscious of your response when the same trigger appears or occurs.
  • Talk to a therapist. Recent studies suggest that NB finds a link with underlying mental health issues. 

When to See a Dentist?

Do you feel a sudden pang of pain when chewing? Are there noticeable changes in the shape and alignment of your teeth? Protect your oral health from the risks associated with repeated nail-biting. You can visit our Chandler dental practice for a quick consultation and/or dental treatment here at Kyrene Family Dentistry.