Learn how to break four harmful dental habits during quarantine

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Bad dental habits can cause jaw dysfunction, tooth sensitivity and other oral issues.

Self-quarantine can make it challenging to manage anxiety and isolation. As a result, some of the habits you have that involve your teeth may have become more pronounced. It's also possible that you have a habit that you don't even know about. Learn how to break these four harmful dental habits.

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1. Nail biting

Nail biting, also known as onychophagy, is a pathological oral habit and grooming disorder. For most, nail-biting is a temporary and non-destructive behavior that causes cosmetic concerns. However, in some cases, nail-biting becomes a severe, long-term problem.

The act of nail-biting is associated with anxiety, which is heightened for many due to COVID-19. You'll find that most people do so when they're feeling nervous, bored, or lonely. Some individuals even do so when they're hungry. People that bite their nails feel a sense of relief while doing it, which is why it's their go-to during certain situations.

The problem with nail-biting is it could eventually cause preventable dental issues, like a chipped tooth. Some people even experience jaw dysfunction. Nail-biting causes you to place your jaw in a protruding position, which puts a lot of pressure on it.

How to stop biting your nails

If you're ready to make nail-biting a thing of the past, here are a few things you can try¹:

  • Trim your nails short

  • Apply bitter-tasting nail polish to your nails

  • Give yourself manicures regularly (you're less likely to bite attractive-looking nails)

  • Determine what your triggers are and then figure out how to avoid those situations or cope with them in a different way

  • Replace nail-biting with a "good" habit like using a stress ball

2. Teeth grinding

Like nail-biting, teeth grinding and clenching usually comes from feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed. Other causes include smoking, heavy alcohol use, caffeine, and sleep disorders.

This habit is also associated with certain activities, like picking up a heavy object, driving, or reading. Tasks that require concentration, like those mentioned above, cause certain people to place their teeth together and apply force through a contraction of the jaw muscles.

If you grind or clench your teeth, you may start to notice chipped or cracked teeth. You may even experience jaw pain and muscle tenderness. Over time it can become challenging even to open your jaw all the way or chew food without pain.

How to stop grinding your teeth

The treatment for teeth grinding ultimately is based on why you do it in the first place. Once you determine the cause, you, along with your dentist, can come up with a customized treatment plan. Relaxation exercises and mindfulness practices are incredibly helpful if anxiousness is the cause, but sometimes a little more is needed. Ultimately, the best way to protect your teeth and prevent tooth wear and fracture is to wear a mouthguard. Mandibular advancement devices are another option. This custom-made device brings your bottom jaw forward to help expand the airway. With sleep apnea, the airway becomes blocked or collapses, which causes people to stop breathing for short periods while they sleep. This condition can also lead to teeth grinding at night, so the mandibular advancement device can help a patient with both.

3. Using your teeth as tools

Have you ever used your teeth to open a bottle cap or a plastic package? Chances are, you've done it at least once or twice in your lifetime. People don't necessarily do this because they're stressed or anxious, but more so out of convenience. Therefore, the solution to this one is a little easier.

If you use your teeth to chew on anything other than food, you risk cracking your teeth, injuring your jaw, or accidentally swallowing the item you intended to open.

How to stop using your teeth as tools

The best thing you can do here is to keep bottle openers and scissors handy, so you don't have to use your teeth. If those things aren't available, ask someone if they can help you.

4. Chewing ice

Chewing ice is a common habit, especially during the summer months. However, as refreshing as it seems, the habit can be bad for your teeth.

Chewing on ice with your teeth is like pushing two crystals together. Your tooth enamel is hard because it's made up of hydroxyapatite crystals. These crystals, made from calcium and phosphorus, give your teeth the ability to handle chewing a variety of food textures. Ice happens to be a crystal too. Therefore, when the two meet, one of them cracks. It's usually the ice, but if you do this often, it might be your teeth.

How to stop chewing ice

Deciding to stop chewing ice is no easy feat, but it's possible. The key is to find some alternatives to chewing ice, such as:

  • Letting it melt in your mouth instead of chewing on it

  • Replacing ice cubes with shaved ice or slushies

  • Eating something else that's crunchy like apple slices or carrots 

Breaking habits during quarantine

If you have a habit that you'd like to tackle or just learned you have one, now is a great time to address it while you have the time. Habits that impact your dental health can ultimately influence your overall health.

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Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice. This is not dental care advice and should not be substituted for regular consultation with your dentist. If you have any concerns about your dental health, please contact your dentist's office.


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  1. https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/nail-care-secrets/basics/stop-biting-nails (Last accessed May 2020)