Nailing the Problem of Plaque: Why Removing Plaque With Your Fingernails Is Unhealthy

Plaque, the thin bio-film on your teeth, contains millions of bacteria. If not removed each morning and night, that army of bacterial organisms will contribute to gum disease and tooth decay. Within around 12 days, plaque hardens into tartar and becomes almost impossible to remove on your own.

However, using your nails to remove plaque can do more harm than good. Yes, your teeth are better off without plaque, but using your nails instead of a toothbrush will create problems that only a dentist can solve. If you have a habit of scraping plaque off your teeth with your nails, the following oral health issues will soon arise.

Your Nails Could Cause Micro-Cracks

Consistently removing plaque from your teeth with your nails can eventually cause micro-cracks to form in the enamel surface. Micro-cracks are bad for your teeth in two ways. The first is that staining molecules will find their way into those cracks. This type of staining is even more noticeable since it occurs in horizontal and vertical lines that will stand out on your teeth.

However, a more serious concern is that micro-cracks provide an additional area for plaque to cling to. Since plaque causes tooth erosion, those cracks could increase the risk of cavities. Your nails are composed of keratin, a tough and fibrous material that is abrasive to enamel.

Your Nails Can Cause Mouth Infections

The area just under the tip of your nails is home to millions of bacteria. Bacteria are able to thrive there because of the protection they are afforded and the availability of moisture. Because of those elements, there are more bacteria under your nails than anywhere else on your hands or fingers. Scratching your teeth then, transfers those bacteria to your mouth.

Those bacteria could then cause infections and contribute to gum disease. This is especially true if you accidentally lacerate your gums while removing plaque with a nail. According to research, diarrhoea is responsible for the deaths of 2-3 million people per year. Importantly, a million of those people could be saved if they washed their hands properly.

As you can see, although your nails might not look deadly—unless you sharpen them—they can cause chaos in your mouth. Removing plaque is good. You'll have fewer cavities and less chance of getting gum disease. However, stick to a toothbrush and floss in future unless you don't mind having to spend much of your adult life in the dentist's chair.