How to Stop Biting Your Nails and Protect Your Health

In today’s generation, people have become more conscious about spread of infectious disease than ever before. We have developed terms such as social distancing and we have finally learned to understand as a society the proper amount of time required to wash your hands. However, a lesser discussed topic that equally affects the spreads of germs are habits like nail biting or chewing on pencils. This article will look into detail how these seemingly harmless habits can create issues.

Why is nail biting bad for teeth?

biting your nails is bad for your teethNail biting is one of the most common and most difficult to break parafunctional habits—a technical term for a habitual exercise of a body part other than its intended function. Like the ocean slowly eroding rocks over time, nail biting is a slow yet destructive process. It often appears harmless. However, people who consistently bite their nails wear down their teeth over time that creates a flat and older appearance. The loss of tooth enamel also can lead to tooth sensitivity, and the change in enamel shape alters the forces on the jaw which can increase chance of TMJ disorder.

In addition to oral health, nail biting also makes humans more likely to become infected by bacteria or a virus. A study found that 76% of people who bit their nails had E. coli in their saliva, compared to 26% of non-nail-biters. That’s a significantly higher chance of picking up germs. The hands can easily transfer germs into the body through the saliva, and also through abrasions in the skin around the nail bed that can form during constant nibbling.

What can people do to stop nail biting?

It’s easier said then done. Often patients consciously try to stop biting their nails, only to catch themselves accidently nail biting or chewing on a pencil a few minutes later. Some recommended techniques to slowly break the nail biting habit are:

  • Trim your nails shorter– Shorter nails require more effort to chew which helps to reduce the habit and limit the wear of your teeth.
  • Reduce stress – Parafunctional habits often increase with stress as a natural way to cope with anxiety. Try meditation, controlled breathing, or squeezing a stress ball
  • Chew gum – Some experts recommend wearing gloves but often that’s not practical in summer climates or professional settings. A good substitute is to chew gum which blocks the teeth from chewing instead of blocking the fingers.
  • Treat your TMJs – Patients with parafunctional habits like nail biting or grinding their teeth are more likely to have temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder. A dentist can make an orthotic mouthguard that can help improve the symptoms of TMJ disorder and that also blocks the teeth from nail biting.

Why preventing nail biting was important in preventing COVID-19 spread

At the time of this writing, the planet is banding together to prevent the pandemic of COVID-19. Limiting introduction of pathogens from the hand to the mouth is a universal precaution that has been brought into the spotlight. It is important to note that there have always been many other bacteria and viruses that are harmful. The principles we learned from the COVID-19 experience, are important to understand going forward to stay healthy.

As we discussed, protection can be very simple. Wash your hands often– for at least 20 seconds each time—it’s not too much to ask. Limit introducing the hands into the mouth by habits like nail biting or pencil chewing. Although there is high anxiety during times of pandemic, it should be reassuring for the public to know that using reasonable precautions hand washing precautions can significantly reduce your chance of contracting a virus. And I know what you’re thinking, what about using hand sanitizer frequently? Hand sanitizer isn’t bad, but it isn’t as effective as washing your hands. A 2019 study supported that hand washing was significantly more likely to prevent the flu than hand sanitizer.