Nail biting is a common behavior among kids and affects an estimated 50% of children between ages 10-18. Similar to thumb sucking, it’s often a way to self-soothe and manage feelings of anxiety. Unfortunately, it can also lead to oral health problems if it continues for too long.
The Consequences of Nail Biting
Children who chronically or aggressively bite their nails may develop any of the following problems:
- Chips or fractures – Over time, nail biting can weaken the protective layer of enamel and make the teeth more prone to chips.
- Gum problems – A child’s gum tissue is susceptible to cuts and lacerations.
- Chipped or damaged dental work – Brackets and wires from braces or tooth-colored fillings on the front teeth may be damaged.
How Can a Pediatric Dentist Help With Nail Biting?
Just like any comforting or soothing habit, nail biting can be difficult to give up. Again, it’s helpful to start by talking to a pediatric dentist at your child’s next checkup. They may recommend any of the following strategies:
- First and foremost, be patient and don’t shame or punish your child to “make them” stop nail biting. This is usually ineffective and can damage their self-esteem and self-worth.
- Focus on positive reinforcement such as verbal praise when you see them resisting the urge to bite their nails.
- Feelings of fear and anxiety often contribute to this habit. Giving your child extra comfort or seeking out therapy may address the root cause.
- There are also some safe but bitter-tasting liquids from the store that make nail biting less appealing.
When it comes to keeping your child’s smile healthy, prevention is always preferable to treatment. If they can overcome nail biting, they’ll avoid many oral health problems altogether!