Nail Biting is hard on your teeth OR A New Reason to Stop Nail Biting

Article Nail Biting Teeth

Gnawed-on nails are not only unsightly, but they may cause big harm to your fingers. Nail-biting wreaks havoc on nails and cuticles, but did you know that the habit can damage teeth, too?

Biting fingernails is a bad habit that often begins in childhood.1 Studies suggest that 60 percent of kids and 45 percent of teenagers bite their nails.1 And while it’s less common after age 18, up to 30 percent of people continue to bite their nails, says Mark S. Wolff, DDS, PhD, Professor and Chair at New York University College of Dentistry.

Most of the time, nail-biting is a reaction to stress, but it can also be an unconscious nervous habit caused by boredom or frustration.2

Conscious or not, it can cause major damage to your teeth. “You’re basically biting on something that’s hard,” he says. “Nail-biting concentrates force in one spot and can result in a fracture of the tooth.” Chomping on your fingernails can also lead to a chipped tooth or broken dental restorations. In extreme cases, the habit can even cause TMJ, a term that encompasses a list of conditions that include pain in the muscles and ligaments we use to chew, or pain in the joint.2 Biting on your nails places excess stress on the joint.2

Quitting nail-biting can tough—but not impossible, says Wolff. “As adults, we have the ability to manage our environment,” he says. “It has to be a conscious decision to quit. Luckily, there are a number of different options out there, like aversion therapy, which is like quitting cigarettes.”

Read on for expert-approved strategies to nix nail-biting. Your nails (and teeth) will thank you later:2

  • Coat nails with a bitter-tasting polish specially formulated for people trying to quit nail-biting, or a clear or colored polish to discourage you from nibbling.
  • Keep nails short, so there’s less surface area to bite.
  • If you bite your nails because of stress, try yoga, meditation, deep breathing or exercise to calm you instead.
  • Invest in regular manicures. Spending money on keeping nails well-groomed will make you think twice about biting them.
  • Try aversion therapy: place a rubber band around your wrist and snap it whenever you feel the urge to nibble on your nails.
  • Look up photos of what the bacteria under your fingernails looks like. Just thinking about the dirt and germs on your nails might turn you off biting for good.

1 WebMD, How to Stob Biting Your Nails, 11/02/2012,

2 Interview: Dr. Mark S. Wolff, 8/12