Go to page content
Side view of woman biting her nails.Side view of woman biting her nails.

The Dangers of Nail-Biting on Your Smile

By: BeSeen Team

Date: February 28, 2024

Onychophagia, a.k.a. nail-biting, is a compulsive behaviour that involves chewing nails when stressed, anxious, or bored. This chronic condition not only reduces your fingernails into stubs but can also chomp down on your dental health. Keep reading to learn how this nasty habit affects your smile and discover ways to break free from this disorder.

Why You Shouldn’t Bite Your Nails 

Cropped photo of woman biting her thumb.
Nail-biting can lead to problems bigger than having unattractive hands, so kick the habit before it’s too late.

A study by the International Journal of Women’s Dermatology confirms that habit of nail-biting may potentially lead to the following detrimental effects:  

  • Progressive nail shortening
  • Degeneration of the distant nail bed
  • Infections of the soft tissue surrounding the nail bed
  • Warts
  • Vesicular lesions

The research also reveals that “the oral cavity has a higher susceptibility to infection and trauma in patients with chronic compulsive nail-biting.” Indeed, maintaining dental hygiene becomes more challenging among patients with nail-baiting disorders.

The American Dental Association (ADA) even warns that biting nails excessively can chip or crack teeth. It can also increase the risk of rotations, root resorption, and tooth loss. And you’re more likely to develop notched teeth because of this oral-fixation habit.

Richard Scher, MD, an expert on nail disorders at Weill Cornell Medical College and a member of the American Academy of Dermatology, explains in an interview with Time magazine why fingernail-biting is bad news for your smile. “Constant biting can lead to poor dental occlusion, so the biter’s teeth shift out of position or become oddly shaped. Biters also suffer from higher rates of gum disease and infection,” he says.

Why Are You Biting Your Nails? 

Cropped photo of woman picking on her nails.
Onychophagia comes from the Greek words “onycho,” meaning fingernail or toenail, and “phagia,” meaning to eat or consume.

Fact: Onychophagia develops from pent-up feelings of tension. Numerous studies suggest that children or adults who are stressed, frustrated, nervous, embarrassed, hungry or bored resort to nail-biting for relief. 

The International Journal of Women’s Dermatology study supports this and confirms that different stressors, including school problems and family dysfunction, can lead to biting nails impulsively. “The exacerbation can be explained by underlying anxiety, creating a feed-forward impulsive behaviour that helps soothe the patient.”

More research reveals that chewing nails isn’t just a nervous habit. Genetic components and underlying psychiatric conditions are also factors. Fingernail-biting can even be a form of attention-seeking or a sign of perfectionism. In a Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry study, principal investigator and author Kieron O’Connor explains:

“We believe that individuals with these repetitive behaviours may be perfectionistic, meaning that they are unable to relax and perform tasks at a normal pace. They are, therefore, prone to frustration, impatience, and dissatisfaction when they do not reach their goals. They also experience greater levels of boredom.” 

Consult a professional if you want a definitive answer to why you can’t stop biting your nails. An expert on the matter can offer more assistance in pinning down the reasons behind your habit.

Lifestyle Changes to Kick the Habit of Nail-Biting 

To break the bad habit, researchers recommend a multidisciplinary approach that provides psychosocial, psychiatric, dermatologic, and dental care. The ADA suggests wearing bitter-tasting nail polish, reducing stress by setting small, realistic goals, and holding something to keep your fingers busy.

But again, it’s still best to consult an expert for the appropriate solution that addresses the root of your concern. Optionally, you can turn to these lifestyle changes to help you escape the clutches of your nail-biting habit:

Practise mindful awareness. 

When you identify emotions that lead you to bite your nails, it’s easier to divert your attention to other forms of stress management. Consider writing a list of your urges to train your mind to hold back on the impulse to bite. Pay attention to your breathing. Expanding your awareness will help you make more conscious decisions to do activities beyond fingernail-biting. 

Keep your hands occupied. 

If you find your hands scrambling, have a stress ball or fidget toy handy to keep your fingers from your mouth. Consider wearing gloves, weather permitting. Your hands have a mind of their own, so blindfold the command centre to regain control. 

Seek support. 

Share your goal of quitting the habit of nail-biting with trusted friends or family. A support system encourages accountability and motivates you to stick to your goals. Don’t be afraid to seek the help of a mental health professional if the cause runs deeper than a physical habit. In any case, remember that you’re not alone.

Treat yourself to a manicure. 

Cropped photo of woman getting a manicure.
Why not indulge in a relaxing manicure to motivate you to keep your nails healthy and pretty?

What better way to keep you from wreaking havoc on your nails than to pamper them with a full manicure and hand spa? Get creative with acrylics or paint the town red with the hottest shade of polish! With hands so pretty, you’ll guard them with your life, especially if it means kicking your nail-nipping habit.

Get regular dental checkups. 

Routine dental checkups are crucial in maintaining oral health, but they’re particularly important for those who bite their nails. Your dentist can inspect for damage related to your biting and help you curb your habit for the sake of your teeth.

Of course, dental professionals can help you address those negative effects and regain your confident smile. For example, if they discover that the habit has led your teeth to move and shift into improper places, they can recommend orthodontic solutions like ClearCorrect. These dental aligners treat dental misalignments discreetly and comfortably.

Nail-biting may seem nonthreatening, but its consequences extend beyond your hand’s reach. So, take the steps to nip the harmful behaviour stat. Begin by setting small goals for yourself; not everyone can quit cold turkey. Developing healthy habits takes time – go day by day! 

 

References: 

American Dental Association. (n.d.-a). 6 habits that harm your teeth (and how to break them). Mouthhealthy.org.

Do you bite your nails? Don’t worry, it’s a sign of perfectionism. (n.d.).

Heid, M. (2014, July 2). You asked: Is biting your nails dangerous — or just gross? TIME.

Sachan, A., & Chaturvedi, T. (2012). Onychophagia (Nail biting), anxiety, and malocclusion. Indian Journal of Dental Research, 23(5), 680.

Siddiqui, Javed & Qureshi, Shazia. (2020). Onychophagia (Nail Biting): an overview. Indian Journal of Mental Health. 7. 97-104. 10.30877/IJMH.7.2.2020.97-104.

Maráz, A., Hende, B., Urbán, R., & Demetrovics, Z. (2017). Pathological grooming: Evidence for a single factor behind trichotillomania, skin picking and nail biting. PLOS ONE, 12(9), e0183806. 

Share this Article

Did this article help you?

0 out of 0 found this helpful.
Need to know more? Send us a message.

Previous Article

Cropped image of a woman with buck teeth.

Why Buck Teeth Are No Laughing Matter

Date: February 26, 2024
Buck teeth are often a subject of ridicule and humour in pop culture. From classic cartoons to Hollywood blockbusters, various media depict characters with this dental feature as unattractive or unserious. They are the klutz, jester, airhead, or sidekick who provides comic relief. While this portrayal may be entertaining, it conceals the reality that having […]
Read Moreabout Why Buck Teeth Are No Laughing Matter

Next Article

Previous Article

Cropped image of a woman with buck teeth.

Why Buck Teeth Are No Laughing Matter

Date: February 26, 2024
Buck teeth are often a subject of ridicule and humour in pop culture. From classic cartoons to Hollywood blockbusters, various media depict characters with this dental feature as unattractive or unserious. They are the klutz, jester, airhead, or sidekick who provides comic relief. While this portrayal may be entertaining, it conceals the reality that having […]
Read Moreabout Why Buck Teeth Are No Laughing Matter

Next Article