9 Ways To Stop Biting Your Nails and Save Your Teeth

9 Ways To Stop Biting Your Nails and Save Your Teeth

 Whitney DiFoggio BS, RDH
Written by Whitney DiFoggio BS, RDH
Medical Reviewed on Feb 10, 2023
byDr. Matthew Hannan DDS
🔬 Evidence Based
9 Ways To Stop Biting Your Nails and Save Your Teeth

Chewing on your nails is a bad habit for some of us. If you’re a nail biter, you know how hard it is to try to stop doing it every day. The teeth damage from nail biting is real. Plus, putting your fingers in your mouth these days adds to the risk of spreading viruses, germs, etc. When you stop biting nails or other chewing habits, it significantly benefits both your smile’s integrity as well as your overall health. Today we’ll talk about 9 ways to help you learn how to stop biting your nails ever again.

Nail Biting Effects On Teeth

If you want to stop biting nails, you need an incentive—right? In this case, it’s avoiding physical damage to your teeth and jaws.

Nail biting physically requires positioning your teeth in a way where they hit end-to-end. This is not a normal biting pattern. When we put the tips of our teeth together and grind, bite, or chew on our nails, it places irregular biting pressure on those parts of our teeth. If you don’t stop biting nails anytime soon, it will eventually cause those teeth to start wearing down. They’ll physically look short and flat on the biting edges.

Teeth damage from nail biting isn’t your only concern. TMJ and jaw issues may flare up as well. When you’re pushing your lower jaw forward far enough to bite the front teeth end-to-end and also apply chewing pressure, your jaw is forcing your TMJ to work unnaturally. Day after day, the strain can take a toll on your joint and the tissues around it.

Why Do I Bite My Nails?

We all bite our nails for different reasons. Maybe you just prefer your teeth over a set of nail clippers. If you have a jagged edge or hangnail, it just seems quicker to bite it off than it does to go look for a manicure set.

Some of us bite our nails out of habit when we’re stressed, nervous, focusing on something, or bored. It’s like a “tic” we fall back into without even realizing it.

In more rare situations, learning how to stop biting your nails is especially challenging, because it’s associated with a behavioral or mental health disorder. The teeth damage from nail biting may be especially noticeable.

Regardless of why you bite your nails, you can rest assured you’re not the only one with a bad habit. But that doesn’t mean teeth damage from nail biting is something you want to brush aside. It’s a serious issue that needs to be addressed.

9 Way To Stop Biting Nails 

As with any bad habit, how to stop biting your nails starts with a “why”. Why do you want to stop biting nails every day? What is it that bothers you about your habit? Your reasons will vary from your neighbors, but the tooth damage from nail biting and the way it makes your hands look overall is more than enough of an incentive.

After you discover your “why”, it’s time to make a plan. No one accidentally just stops biting their nails. It takes a carefully thought-out strategy, dedication, and even sometimes rewarding yourself.

Whether you’re an adult who still bites your nails or you’re trying to help your child break the habit, here are a handful of tactics you can try. Not each one is right for everyone, but you’ll be able to find at least one or two that apply to your situation.

1) Write A List Of Urges

People with great self-awareness can sometimes immediately identify what it is that makes them want to chew their nails. To delay teeth damage from nail biting, make a list of your triggers and urges so that you can consciously train your mind to think through what you’re going to do next (aka not bite your nails.)

2) Get A Manicure

You’ll be less inclined to chew up your nails when they look amazing after a fresh manicure. Some people even find that getting dip or acrylic sets is the best way to stop biting nails immediately.  

3) No Bite Nail Polishes

There are special coatings or polishes out there on the market that you can apply to your fingernails, which make them a bit foul-tasting. That way if you instinctively put your finger to your mouth, the taste will turn you off within a second or two. The hardest part is just remembering to keep it on hand to apply it as needed (like after you wash your hands.)

4) Cover Your Nails Up

Having something physically covering up your hands makes it flat-out impossible to chew your nails. For kids, it might be a pair of socks over their hands when they go to sleep. If the weather is cold, consider wearing gloves. Doing yard work? Garden gloves work too. If you work from home, you might even want to consider keeping something over your fingers like latex gloves or finger cots until you finally break the habit for good.  

5) Play With A Fidget Spinner/Keep Hands Busy

Pay attention to the time(s) of day you tend to chew your nails the most. Is it when you’re sitting still? Consider purposefully having something for your hands to do. Maybe it’s a fidget spinner, perhaps it’s a rubber band to stretch back and forth, or who knows, maybe you take up knitting. The point is you’re giving your hands something to do so that they don’t find themselves back up next to your mouth.  

6) Cut Your Nails Short

Do you only tend to bite your nails as they get longer? Keep them short. You can’t get teeth damage from nail biting if there is no nail there to chew on. Even if you get manicures or fake nails, ask them to cut your nails short on purpose. It will help to take away some of the temptation to bite on them.  

7) Dip Nails In Salt

Salt is fairly convenient and the small little shakers can go with you anywhere. If you’re tempted to bite your nails, quickly dip them in a small container of salt. You might forget about it since you resisted the initial urge, but if you instinctively put one in your mouth a few minutes later, you’ll remember fairly quickly! A little salt on your tongue here or there isn’t much of a deterrent, but if it’s frequently throughout the day you’ll probably start to be turned off by it.

8) Carry Cuticle Scissors With You  

How to stop biting your nails may be as easy as having a set of nail clippers or cuticle scissors on hand (pun not intended.) That way when you have a hangnail, snipping it away is even quicker than being tempted to try to bite it off. It will be more efficient, offer a “cleaner cut”, and is far more hygienic. Plus, you can use them in front of other people without being self-conscious.

9) Think About All The Germs!

Nail biting takes everything you touched during the day and puts it straight into your mouth. The doorknob. The handrail. That pen you used to sign in at a front desk. You get the picture. If you wouldn’t lick those surfaces, then don’t put your hands in your mouth. It’s that simple.  Thinking about all of the germs every time you’re tempted to chew your nails will give you all the more reason to break the habit.  

Seek Help If The Cause Is Deeper Than A Physical Habit

Sometimes habits or tics are the sign of something much deeper. Severe anxiety, stress, or a mental health crisis can affect anyone. If you’re one of those people, cognitive behavioral therapy with a licensed professional counselor can help immensely, and in more ways than one!

How To Treat Jaw Pain From Biting My Nails

Aside from being able to stop biting nails, you can also find pain relief through over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication (Motrin) and applying a warm, moist compress. If jaw pain worsens or persists, make sure to see your dentist ASAP for a TMJ exam.

Prevent Teeth Damage From Nail Biting

If you or your child need to stop biting nails, be prepared for an uphill battle. But with a game plan in mind, you can prevent additional damage to your teeth and TMJ. The time to stop is now before those issues get worse.

 Whitney DiFoggio BS, RDH
Written by Whitney DiFoggio BS, RDH"Teeth Talk Girl," is a registered dental hygienist. She started her dental health journey on YouTube, educating the public through videos.
Dr. Matthew  Hannan DDS
Medical Reviewed byDr. Matthew Hannan DDSDr. Matthew Hannan is a board-certified dentist and graduate of UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry.
Last updated onMarch 20, 2023Here is our process

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