Does your child bite their fingernails? It’s not an uncommon habit among kids. Like hair twisting and thumb sucking, children use it as a means of self-soothing when they’re nervous, scared, unsure, or bored. However, unlike other self-soothing habits formed in childhood, children are more likely to continue nail biting as they get older. According to recent studies, around 50% of children between the ages of 10 and 18 chew on their fingernails. Thankfully this habit will usually go away on its own without any long-term effects. However, in the case of overaggressive or frequent nail biting, especially when your child’s teeth are developing, it can cause serious damage. Here’s how chewing on fingernails can hurt your child’s teeth, and how you can help your little one break this bad habit before the damage is done.
What Does Nail Biting Do to My Child’s Teeth?
Occasional fingernail chewing won’t have much impact on your child’s teeth. However, if your son or daughter is aggressively or frequently chewing on their fingernails, there can be serious consequences. In the short-term, nail biting can quickly cause:
- Chipped or cracked teeth. Nail biting weakens the layer of enamel that protects their teeth.
- Loosened teeth and tooth loss. The extra pressure can cause teeth to become loose and fall out.
- Damage and infection in the gums. Sharp bits of fingernail can easily tear and damage their soft gum tissue, exposing them to infection.
In the long-run, nail biting can cause:
- Teeth to shift and become crooked. Prolonged pressure from nail biting can cause teeth to develop incorrectly and become misaligned.
- Damage to dental work. Chewing on fingernails can damage braces and the teeth they’re connected to.
- Nightly teeth grinding. This unconscious response to stress is a condition called bruxism that can wear down and break teeth over time.
If you’re worried that your child’s nail biting has caused damage to your their teeth, it’s important that you see your child’s dentist right away.
How to Break the Habit
If your child is a notorious nail biter and the previous lists have made you nervous, you’re probably wondering what you can do to put a stop to it. Well, you’re in luck! Nail biting can be a tough habit for anyone to break, but it’s doable. The most successful ways to help a child break their fingernail chewing habit are:
- Identify what triggers the habit. Once you know what’s causing your child to bite their nails, you can either take steps to avoid it or to help them resolve their anxiety.
- Give them a different way to express their feelings. If your child starts to chew on their nails, try encouraging them to write, draw, be active, or play with a toy that occupies their hands.
- Use over-the-counter solutions. There are products available that can be applied to their fingernails to discourage biting.
- Don’t scold them and make it worse. Instead, use positive reinforcement when you notice your child attempting to resist their bad habit.
If your child still has trouble overcoming nail biting, you can both talk to a pediatric dentist for more help. Keep their smiles happy and healthy by helping them quit this bad habit!
About the Author
Dr. Layne Benzley is a pediatric dentist at Castle Rock Smiles in Castle Rock, CO. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa and obtained specialized training to receive his pediatric dental certificate from the Eastman Dental Center at the University of Rochester in Rochester, NY. As the father of four young children himself, Dr. Benzley understands how important it is to help children break bad habits as their teeth develop. If you’d like to know more, he can be contacted via his website or at (303) 660-5373.