Tooth & Nail

I have two bad habits: nail-biting and teeth grinding.

I can’t really recall a time I didn’t bit my nails. I do it without thinking which is strange since I am a borderline germaphobe. You’d think putting my hand in my mouth would make my germaphobic side scream out “STOP!” but it never did. I mean, I won’t touch a public restroom door handle after I’ve carefully washed my hands and yet I will put my finger in my mouth. That makes zero sense. (Seriously though- do you know how many people leave a public restroom without washing their hands? TOO MANY that’s how many.)

Once a brazen woman I work with on event committees even had the gall to tell me “take your hand out of your mouth!” while making a slapping gesture towards my hand. I didn’t even know I was biting my nails at the time. Also, hello!, you are crossing a person boundary lady. The nail-biting is mostly unconscious. I nibble at my cuticles to pass the time. If I break a nail my OCD kicks in and I have to get the nail even or it drives me batty. I have longed for pretty nails with actual nail length that would be worthy of pretty polish. For non-jagged cuticles. To overcome the need to put my hand in my mouth when I am bored, thinking, or fixating.

For the past month I’ve been trying an experiment in an effort to stop.

Step one: get a manicure. Granted, I gave myself the manicure but still, I did it up right as best I could. I even put on bright red polish despite my barely existing nails knowing that my vanity would stop me from munching on my nails if the threat of red polish chipping off and getting stuck in my teeth could occur. Stuff stuck in my teeth is up there with stuff dangling out of my nose. The horror!

Step two: every time I notice my hand making its way to my mouth, put a breath mint in my mouth. So far, the only side effect to this maneuver is fresh breath. BONUS!

I’m happy to report that it’s working. I have actual nails that reach the tip of my finger and non-jagged cuticles. I can even drum my nails on a table top and you can hear them. Because they exist! It’s awesome! Of course, wouldn’t you know it, I got the tip of my right thumb stuck in a public restroom lock last weekend and subsequently have had to wear a big band-aid to cover the very deep gouge of missing skin. I will never under-appreciate my thumb again. I can’t tell you how many things are difficult to do without a working thumb. Appreciate your thumbs today, people. That’s my public service announcement for the day.

I have, for a very long time, suffered from TMJ which has resulted in my jaw locking (a long, long time ago) and a fairly constant jaw popping when I open my mouth wide. It actually feels good to stretch my jaw joint but the sound in my head when I do so is rather loud. I’m certain you could hear it if you were sitting next to me. It’s sort of like people who need to crack their knuckles all the time. It is loud, it sounds bad, but it gives a sense of relief.

Side note: I once had a dentist tell me, when I told him how my jaw ached a lot, to not open my mouth wide. THAT WAS HIS ADVICE. I no longer go to that dentist.

My current dentist has repeatedly commented that I might want to invest in a night guard. My first thought was BRING ON THE SEXY because really, who wouldn’t want to make out with a person wearing a night guard? He’s right though- I need one. Every year I have to get the tips my front teeth smoothed down because my teeth grinding has caused them to become jagged. You probably cannot notice unless you are all up in my smile (which would be awkward so why would you do that?) but I notice. I worry that if I keep neglecting this problem I will be 60 and with caps on my teeth because I’ve worn away my actual teeth.

I can pay out-of-pocket something upwards of $400 for a professionally molded and fitted night guard or I can stop at the pharmacy and pick one up that I can mold myself at home. I think those run about $60. A part of me is like, just cough up the money for the good one that will fit well, and then the cheap side of me is all, just grab the over-the-counter one and hope it works. Decisions, decisions. . . but one must be made soon. The fate of my smile depends on it.

Do you have habits that need to be broken? How have you overcome them? Do tell!

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39 thoughts on “Tooth & Nail

  1. I have a teeth-grinding problem too and tried one of the drugstore guards. Don’t waste your money. I never could get it to fit properly, and it felt like it was going to slip and choke me while I wore it.

  2. It’s not a habit that needs to be broken, but a suggestion for the TMJ: have you ever been to a chiropractor, and told them of your TMJ and jaw popping-businesses? The muscles along your neck (and into your shoulder) might be crazycrazy tight, which leads to tension, which can lead to that there pain and locking in your jaw… Massages, ART (active release-technique), and a few adjustments were all I needed, and now no more popping or locking.

    The mouth guard is a good idea, though… No capped teeth is also a good plan.

  3. When I’m nervous or bored I mess with my hair. Run my fingers through it, fluff it. Obsessively make sure no loose ones are dangling funny. I freak out if a hair is on my clothes or skin. Yuck. I try to do something else if I feel the urge to touch my hair. Meetings at work are the worst. No keyboard or crocheting to keep my fingers busy. Ugh.

    Good for you on quitting nail biting. I’m a germophobe, too, so the idea of that makes me freak. I feel bad about this now, but many years ago I had a co-worker that bit his nails all the time so I lectured him endlessly on the germs he was putting in his mouth and how unattractive it was. He quit because I made him feel so bad about it. Wasn’t my business, should’ve kept my mouth shut…

  4. I pick my cuticles. They get dry and cracky, and it makes me crazy when they catch on things, so I trim them and/or pick them to get everything smooth. One thing that makes a world of difference is using Sally Hansen’s Cuticle Massage Cream liberally and often. (Let mail polish cure for 24 hours before applying.) This stuff is amazing, best prices around here are at Target.

  5. Nail biter, I started doing it when I stopped sucking my thumb. I wish I had something that works to share, but I kind of just stopped biting them because I wanted nice-looking nails when I got married. Since then I only bite my thumbs and pinkies. No idea why. I figure it’s better them than all of them.

  6. I grind my teeth in my sleep. When I was younger, I would grind so hard my teeth squeaked. I got one of those fancy pants mouth guards and I always spit it out in my sleep. Eventually I just gave up.
    As I mentioned to you off-line, I pick at my scalp. It’s horrifying. I have little bald spots and scabs. I can’t dye my hair anymore because there is always an open sore. GROSS!!!! For a long time I put off doing anything about it because it felt so oddly soothing. But I am starting to hate it. I’m down to pretty much only picking at one spot, which is (mild) improvement. I try to rub moisturizer or Neosporin on it when I get the urge to touch my scalp. I need to stop. I should probably go back to my therapist about this. 😦

  7. same two bad habits as you. i’ve conquered the nail biting at times by doing the same as you – keeping them looking pretty & moisturized. now that i’m in the final stages of my phd dissertation, they’ve all gone to hell again but that is a price i’ll have to pay for finishing this phd!!!

    about the TMJ though: same deal here. and i bought the night guard 5 years ago (yes, the $400 one) and it’s been worth EVERY penny. i have fewer tension headaches and i’m sure your jaw would hurt less. i am really due for a new one since i’ve worn through some of the plastic already (see graduate student situation above though….waiting for benefits when i have a job again!) I like to soak my night guard in listerine every few days to keep it fresh and germ-free. yeah, it can be a strange thing to pull it out with a partner around. basically, i don’t take it out with a new fella….but it sounds like you’re in a relatinship of depth and it’s not the worst thing in the world. (and hey, doesn’t he snore?? so this might even it up a bit.)

    Go for the good one. invest in your health and preventative care.

  8. You should be able to get a drugstore OTC night guard for $20 or less. I would recommend trying one before you plunk down the money for the $400 one. I wore one for a while that I got from the drugstore, and while it wasn’t totally comfortable, it did stop the grinding.

  9. More assvice, but may I recommend one of those new gel manicures?

    It’s kind of a new product, I guess, and it is either called Gellac or Gellish, depending on the product. Anywho, it is like regular nail polish, but you have to get it applied at the salon because it needs to be cured with a uv light. But it lasts like THREE WEEKS. My little nail place in Tacoma just started carrying it, and I’m on my second round. It really is awesome. Does not chip and stays really shiny. At my place it only costs $10 more than a regular manicure.

  10. Oh my gosh, we are sisters. I bite my nails too. And I grind my teeth at night. I have never used a drugstore night guard, but I do have one my dentist made. Sure, it was expensive, but I’ve had it for 3+ years. Totally worth it: I haven’t broken any more molars! (Yeah, ’cause I had to have a root canal and crown on a molar because of my clenching and grinding.)

    Make the investment, I say.

  11. i grind my teeth at night too, but i wouldn’t really consider it a bad habit since i’m unconscious at the time. also, i think it’s genetic. when we were kids, i could hear my brother grinding his teeth IN THE NEXT ROOM. my mother has super sensitive teeth. her dentist told her it was from grinding her teeth at night, but she doesn’t believe him.

    i splurged and paid for the expensive night guard. i tried using one from the drug store and it TOTALLY SUCKED. the dentist will make a much better one, and it will last for a few years.

  12. The grinding will get worse. I’ve grinded my teeth for about 20 years. Every 2-3 years I get new guards made perfectly for my teeth. I think you should consider getting guards made specially for you. Those at the pharmacy are a waste Of $.
    Just my opinion…

  13. Cough up the money for a pro one. And if possible get one made for your bottom teeth, not top (they tend to stay in easier). I’ve ground my teeth to the point where I almost have none (ok, I’m exaggerating slightly. But only slightly), and after 5 years of the drugstore kind, the pro one is a thing of beauty.

  14. I guess I’m not alone when I also say the ones at the drugstore are not worth it. I’ve had professional ones for awhile and the first one I broke then tried the drugstore kind to save money, being a student and all. Because they are soft, you can still clench too hard. I got a new professional one when I was working and had dental coverage. I’ve been using it for over five years and while it looks kinda gross, my dentist said there is nothing wrong with it and I can keep using it as long as it feels good.

  15. I also grind my teeth at night and beyond just having the cosmetic piece of it, I began feeling soreness in certain teeth that basically felt like a cavity, but when my teeth were x-rayed no signs of cavities at all. My dentist told me you can ultimately end up killing the roots of your teeth with excess pressure and that ends up being SUPER EXPENSIVE.

    After trying multiple drugstore kits, I finally just got a professional one done and it was SO WORTH IT. It isn’t clunky at all, it actually is very small and only attaches to my top two teeth but makes it impossible for the teeth to grind or jaw to clench and no joke it has CHANGED MY LIFE! Yes it was a couple hundred dollars, but I spent half that going the drugstore route anyway and it didn’t get me anywhere.

    Save your pennies. Go pro. Save your mouth! 🙂

  16. I am also a nail biter. It’s so bad I actually chipped my front tooth and had to spend a ridiculous amount of money to get it fixed. But do you think that stopped me? Of course not. For, lo and behold, here I sit once again with a chipped front tooth from biting my nails. Only I can’t afford to get it fixed again because my dentist told me to get a crown. Ain’t gonna happen, buddy. Unfortunately I am also allergic to nail polish, so I can’t even make them pretty if I wanted to. So, it appears I must remain a snaggle-toothed, scraggly-nailed woman. HOT!

  17. Re: nails — I actually get a buffing manicure almost every week (they’re like $10). They trim my cuticles and make my nails shiny — so even when they’re short, there’s nothing to pick at! (I am gross and pick at my cuticles if they exist)

  18. (which would be awkward so why would you do that?)

    That made me laugh out loud for real. Too funny!

    I have tons of irritating habits. I can’t think of one right now, but I know I have tons. I do know that 2 of my kids used to grind their teeth and it made me crazy! Either they outgrew it or I just don’t know because I’m not checking them every 5 seconds while they sleep now but I am happy either way. It isn’t that the sound bothers me, it just makes me worry about their teeth. I have a thing for nice teeth, so it’s a big deal to me that they have nice teeth. Get the good mouth guard. I bet it will make a huge difference in how you feel!

  19. Nail biter here too. I’ve looked at everything on the internet to stop and I get so sick of the suggestions “But that polish on that tastes like crap.” Ummm, I’m not doing it because my fingers taste GOOD! It’s a nervous thing, geez.
    I’ve started to buff them and I used the Sally Hansen Cuticle Remover Gel (little blue bottle) to take my cuticles as far back as it is healthy to go. Nothing to tear at. Good luck, it’s been a battle for me for years.

  20. Mr. W and I both have mouth guards and the nights we both actually wear them to bed always make us laugh. His is bigger (I actually just wear a teeth-bleaching tray I had) and it makes him really slurry, so then I have to imitate him saying stupid things. Endless joy, I tell you. As a non-expensive-guard wearer, I would say go with the $60 one.

  21. Oh get the good nightguard. Seriously. Get a hard one, not a soft one… if you’re as intense a teeth-grinder as you make it sound (and I am too!) then you’ll chew right through the soft one and it will distract you so much with it’s pliability in your mouth that you won’t be able to fall to sleep at night. The hard one is where it’s at; it will stay put and feel like a part of your mouth so it’s not distracting. Also, yeah, not the sexiest thing ever, but do you ever get headaches from the pressure you create in your skull from teeth-grinding? A nightguard will help with that. And I just pop it in when I’m literally about to go straight to sleep. Not when I’m about to start a sexy make-out sesh!

    My worst habit is probably knuckle-cracking. But I CAN’T STOP.

  22. I pick at my cuticles until they bleed. I wash my hands a lot so my cuticles are always dry and peeling which just leads me to picking. My husband does the bat-my-hands thing but it doesn’t help. I find I do it unconsciously and suddenly I’m bleeding everywhere and I don’t really know why.

  23. my new dentist blamed tooth pain on grinding. i think they make commission on selling night guards. I just went to a new dentist, and they adjusted my bite, from a previous filling and the pain is gone.

  24. My Hubs just saved our marriage with a night guard. The cheap kind was money well wasted…get the real thing the first time! =)

  25. I have never commented, but am chiming in to say GET THE PROFESSIONAL NIGHT GUARD! I put off paying the $300 out of pocket, and ended up with $5,000 in damage to my teeth the following year. I am only 30. It is totally worth the expense. Also, LOVE reading your blog 🙂

  26. Not that you need another comment about it but go for the professional mouth guard, I was actually able to grind through the drugstore one and it never fit right, this coming from someone who has literally ground 2 molars into pieces….stressed? me? NO! haha
    I used to bite my nails too, I trained myself out of it wearing acrylic nails for a few years, now my nails are thick and always just the right length (bi monthly manicures at the salon) and I only get them buffed now, almost never wear polish, its worth the discipline though my hubs is a hand freak…:)

  27. Uh. Yeah, I don’t bite my nails, but I do mess with my cuticles all the time, so I end up biting those. And yes, I know it is a nasty habit but a damn hard one to break! Not so awesomely adult to have my fingers in my mouth.

    I have had a professional night guard of some sort or the other since early high school after my other othodontia was done. And I have had many since then, as I tend to wear through them. Power Jaw! It was enough to see the damage that I was doing to the guard to continue wearing them. You only have one set of teeth in life. And my dad has little baby teeth from grinding them his entire life. Honestly it has become something that I have a hard time sleeping without, and also helps with jaw pain. Go for it!

  28. Unfortunately I have to go with nail biter also. My mom says I have been biting them since I was five (almost 40 now). The only time I don’t bite them is when I have tips put on and I still chew on the sides of those for the first month but after that all is good. I wish I could figure out what I can do to stop because it is really annoying but I know I do it unconciously most of the time.

  29. I’m a huge grinder too! ESPECIALLY when I’m super stressed. I’ve been thinking about getting a night guard too, but they’re so freakin expensive.

    I also used to be a nail biter – I did something similar as you did, and just had large amounts of gum on me all the time. It actually worked, and I think it also helped me lessen my nightly teeth grinding somehow because my jaw isn’t as achy.

  30. I had a nightguard for TMJ and I used to take it out in my sleep. (Just be warned.)

    I’m perfect. I have no bad habits. hahahaha… right. Or all my habits are bad.

  31. OPI has a cuticle oil to go that i bought at ulta. i keep it in my pocket and everytime i have the urge to pick the cuticle i “paint” the oil on (it’s awesome stuff.) it helps the dryness which is the reason i pick.

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