Nail biting is one of the most common nervous habits in children, along with thumb sucking, nose picking, teeth grinding, hair twisting or pulling. “As parents, we want to stop nail biting because it can go on to adulthood,” says Dr. Elizabeth. “And if not corrected, it can lead to dental problems like jaw pain or chipped teeth.

What are some common reasons for habits and how do you stop them?

The first step is understanding why your child bites their nails

Does the nail biting start in particular situations? Sometimes it’s just a habit of boredom, and sometimes it’s for stress relief. It can also be imitation–does someone close to your child bite their nails?

Observe your child. You may not even have to point out to him/her that she’s biting his/her nails if you anticipate and redirect before the nail biting starts. For example, if your child starts nail biting alongside watching TV, give him or her a stress ball or any toy to occupy his/her hands.

If the nail biting starts when your child is in trouble, don’t add to the anxiety– give assurance. And again, divert the hands away from the mouth. Try Silly Putty or a smooth stone (or possibly a fidget spinner) to “fidget” with while reading or watching TV.

Older children may have deeper anxieties: a new school or starting or trying out for a sport. There may be changes in the family: a new baby, a divorce, a new family member, a new pet, or even sibling rivalry. Observe and listen and, if you notice new and unhealthy habits starting around any change in life situation, talk with your child about it.

Breaking the habit

Explain to your child what the habit is and why it should be stopped. It’s not a scolding– this can just add to your child’s anxiety. Discuss it calmly. Next, you may want to talk about and establish a secret signal to alert your child if they do it and are unaware at home or in public. A touch on the arm, or maybe a special code word. This can be a very helpful way of reminding your child without creating embarrassment. Older children may want to try to break the habit themselves with techniques like manicures, bitter nail coatings or a reward system.

About Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontic Specialists of Michigan, the offices of Drs. Plunkett, Ralstrom, Makowski, Thanasas, Ker, and Associates

Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontic Specialists of Michigan have specialized in pediatric dentistry and orthodontics since 1968. Our family-friendly and newly renovated office gives patients and families a more comfortable and consistent experience with dentistry from the very beginning. Our pediatric dentists treat children from newborn to 18 years of age while our orthodontists provide care for both children and adults and are proud to be Premier Providers of Invisalign and Invisalign Teen services. The ability to treat all patients with compassion and individuality, including those that may have special needs reaches beyond our facility, which has treatment rooms available for children who require additional privacy and customized care options.  We pioneered valued hospital affiliations to allow dental services to be performed at DMC Children’s Hospital and St. John Macomb Hospital, when appropriate or necessary, and our specialists are also proud to be on staff at Henry Ford and Beaumont hospitals.

39400 Garfield Rd., Suite 200
Clinton Township, MI
Phone: 586-286-0700
Fax: 586-286-5932