Long-term nail biters know the drill: resist, chew, bite . . . repeat. It’s a vicious cycle that so many of us have accepted as an unbreakable habit. The most obvious consequence, of course, is a less-than-ample canvas for nail polish; but gnawing on your nails could be doing a number on your teeth, too.
“Nail biting is an insidious habit and has a cumulative effect [on teeth],” says Dr. Ramin Tabib, DDS and co-founder of NYC Smile Design. If you’re a nail biter who has yet to notice any resulting dental issues, Tabib says to consider your luck a pyrrhic victory: “When you bite your nails, the teeth win at first since enamel is a much harder substance than the nail,” he explains — but ultimately, nails wear down teeth and damage your smile in more ways than one.
For one, nail biting can make teeth look older. As we age, our teeth naturally wear down and can become shorter, explains Dr. Victoria Veytsman, but nail biting can inflict additional wear, which essentially turbocharges the shortening process. “Shorter teeth can add years to a smile and face, and create proportions that are less than ideal,” she adds. Tabib notes that with severe cases of nail biting, teeth can wear down to be so thin that they chip or crack, which isn’t a great look regardless of your age.
Perhaps most alarming, though, is that nail biting can undo all the months — and money! — spent wearing braces. “[When you bite your nails] you’re performing orthodontics on your own teeth, but you are not moving them in a favorable position,” warns Tabib. (We’d rather leave it to the pros, thank you very much.) He shared that gaps between teeth could be a potential side effect of your DIY dental work.
From a health standpoint, nail biting goes more than skin (or tooth!) deep. Dr. Tabib notes that nail biters put themselves at an increased risk of gum infection due to the bacteria they’re introducing from their fingers. Additionally, nail biters are at a greater risk of tooth pain, as nail biting can wear teeth down to expose the most sensitive layer, the dentin.
If you’re already noticing the effects of a long-term nail biting habit, Veytsman recommends considering porcelain restorations such as veneers, which can rehab lost tooth structure. That said, veneers are not a cure-all, as they’re not immune to wear and tear. Ultimately, quitting the nail biting habit all together is the only long-term solution for preserving your pearly whites.
Of course, giving up any habit is easier said than done. Veytsman recommends treating the root of nail biting, which can often be related to stress or anxiety. For this reason, she suggests practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation and regular exercise (who knew your pilates class could be doing your smile a favor?). For quick hacks, she recommends stress balls, chewing gum, and bitter-tasting polish, like Mavala Switzerland Mavala Stop ($16). Investing in consistent gel manicures could also help, as gel is very challenging to bite off and could give your nails a chance to grow back.
So, if you’ve accepted nail biting as an unbreakable habit ingrained since childhood, you might want to reconsider fighting the good fight. Your teeth — and the rest of your body — will thank you.
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