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Health Q&A

Posted September 12, 2012 in Advice Column, Clive

Q: Can nail-biting pose any dental problems?

A: Unfortunately, nail-biting is more than an unsightly habit. The habit can leave more than stunted fingernails; it can lead to problems with the temporomandibular joints — the joints in front of the ears where the jawbone meets, also known as the TMJs.

Any activity like nail-biting that involves holding the teeth in an unnatural position for extended periods increases the possibility of injury to the TMJ. Over a long period, the unnatural position of the jaws involved in nail-biting will stretch the muscles in the jaw, causing pain and throwing off balance of the TMJs. If a very young child begins the habit, it can contribute to a gap developing between the front two teeth. Also, the type of person who is prone to nail and finger biting may also be prone to picking at their gums.

Some dentists and physicians recommend putting a non-toxic, unpleasant-tasting lotion in the fingers. Other believe putting a bandage on a finger could serve as a reminder and deterrent. If you have a nail-biter in your house or you are yourself a nail-biter, talk with your dentist about ways to break the habit.

Information provided by Des Moines Dental Group, 708 First Ave S., 967-6611.

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