Parafunctions & Their Effects on Your Oral Health

While you may have never heard the term “parafunction,” you’ve probably experienced it. Parafunction just means an abnormal function which can include things like nail-biting, unconscious teeth grinding (called bruxism), ice chewing, clenching, thumb sucking, and more. Here we’re going to talk about these parafunctional habits and how they can negatively affect your oral health. 


You’ve probably been told not to bite your nails because of how that affects your nail health and appearance but it can really affect your teeth as well. It can chip your teeth or cause an oral infection. Your nails are full of bacteria from everything you touch throughout the day. Putting your nails in your mouth transfers all of that bacteria to your mouth and can cause an infection. 

You should also never bite a hangnail and should remember to scrub under your nails with soap and water when you wash your hands. That will help ensure that you clean off any bacteria in case your fingers do come in contact with your mouth. 

Clenching & Grinding (Bruxism)

Often when people clench or grind their teeth, it’s a habit they may not be fully aware of at the moment. The first step is to try to pay more attention to these habits so that you can notice any triggers and stop the behavior once it starts. 

Bruxism, in particular, can lead to more serious health effects. It can cause migraines and when done frequently enough requires an oral appliance to fix it. 

There have also been studies that associate bruxism as an expression of anxiety or depression in adolescents with temporomandibular disorder. This leads to jaw pain, difficulty chewing, and clicking or locking of the jaw joint. 

Some people grind their teeth more frequently when they’re sleeping which is considered a sleep disorder. If you’re unsure if you’re grinding your teeth in your sleep, here are some signs to look for:

  • Grinding that’s loud enough to wake up your sleep partner

  • Teeth that are flattened, fractured, chipped, or loose

  • Worn tooth enamel

  • Increased tooth pain or sensitivity

  • Tired or tight jaw muscles

  • Jaw, neck, or face pain

  • Paint that feels like an earache

  • Dull headaches starting in the temples

  • Damage from chewing on the inside of your cheek

  • Sleep disruption

Ice Chewing

It might not come as a surprise that chewing on ice is also a very damaging parafunction for your oral health. It can lead to cracked teeth and increase the sensitivity of your teeth. 

This is one habit that is easier to fix since you’re probably very aware of doing it. Just take the time to avoid this one and your teeth will thank you. 

Ask Dr. Wilder at your next visit what he thinks of ice chewing. 

Thumb Sucking

When young children suck on their thumbs or when babies are sucking in a non-nutritive way, it can affect oral health. 

Similar to nail-biting, you’re bringing a foreign object into your mouth that may contain bacteria that can lead to an infection. 

Thumb sucking in particular can also lead to an overbite, changes in the shape of the jaw, and a sensitivity on the roof of the mouth. 

Positive reinforcement can be helpful to teach kids not to thumb suck. We’re also happy to speak to your child about their oral health at their visit. 

If you or someone in your family is struggling with parafunctional habits, reach out to us for an appointment at 509-891-7770. 



Request An Appointment

Call Us Text Us
Skip to content