Onychophagia is the term used for nail biting, which affects 60% of children and 45% of teenagers globally. In smaller numbers however, this also persists into adulthood. Most people associate nail-biting as a nervous habit, but does it affect the teeth?
Even though tooth enamel is the hardest substance in the body (yes, harder than bone), persistent nail biting can still damage the teeth. Placing undue stress on your teeth can chip and crack them, making them weaker and more prone to further damage. If the wear is significant enough, it can cause the teeth to look more flattened and ground-down - mimicking bruxism. Those with braces risk placing further pressure on the roots, making them more vulnerable to root resorption (a "shortening" of the roots). Lastly, if the nails rub against the gums, this can traumatise the gingiva (gum) and even lead to gingival recession.
Can anything be done for those with a nail-biting habit?
Most kids and teens will grow-out of the nail-biting habit. However for adults, there are a number of options. The most common treatment is the application of a clear, bitter-tasting nail-polish which discourages nail biting. Other strategies may include behavioural management therapies, wearing bandages across the fingertips or long-sleeved clothing with the sleeves sewn shut. Getting nails trimmed and manicured regularly may also decrease the temptation to bite nails.