When stressed or worried, do you bite your nails? This is a common habit among people of all ages. Unfortunately, this nervous habit poses risks to a patient’s oral health and creates significant dental problems. Biting one’s nails can transfer oral bacteria from the hands to the mouth, lead to bruxism, and irritate soft tissues in the mouth.
Think about everything you touch in a day’s time. Even if you wash your hands regularly, bacteria and germs often accumulate underneath nails. When you chew on your fingernails, you are inviting additional bacteria to your mouth. At any moment, your mouth is teeming with bacteria because it is a moist, warm environment. To help prevent tooth decay and gum disease, patients should strive to ward off bacteria with thorough oral hygiene practices and avoid placing their fingers in their mouths.
When nail biting becomes a habit, it often leads to bruxism—the unconscious habit of grinding or clenching one’s teeth as a response to worry and anxiety. Bruxism causes unnecessary wear on teeth because the force used to clench and grind wears teeth down and damages tooth enamel. When tooth enamel is damaged, patients are more susceptible to dental caries and dental injuries. Habitual grinding and clenching of teeth causes malocclusions (misaligned bites) and strains the temporomandibular joints (TMJs) that connect the skull and jawbones. These conditions produce discomfort and diminish a patient’s ability to speak or eat with ease.
Chewing on your fingernails also affects the mouth’s soft tissues—especially the gums. The sharp edges of nails and their pieces cut gums and soft tissue. Scrapes and cuts on gums leaves them open to bacteria, which can infect and inflame soft tissues.
Because of the many dental concerns associated with this bad habit, our dentist strongly encourages patients to avoid biting their fingernails out of nervousness and instead urges patients to develop healthier coping mechanisms for handling times stress and anxiety.
Contact the office of Dr. Paul Lounsberry to schedule a dental examination or cleaning with our experienced general and restorative dentist.