Nail biting, or onychophagia, is a relatively common habit that affects people of all ages. There are many theories as to why people bite their nails, but most agree that it often stems from stress or may be an activity that’s picked up as a child.
Estimates suggest that 30 percent of children, 45 percent of teenagers, 25 percent of young adults, and
5 percent of older adults bite their nails,1 with the aesthetic consequences being the most obvious.
For some people, the social stigma and embarrassment over the look of their nails causes them to become depressed, isolated, or avoid activities they would otherwise enjoy. Beyond this, however, is there reason to worry if you regularly bite your nails?
As you bite your nails, you easily transfer bacteria into your mouth and the rest of your body, where they may lead to infections
Nail biters are susceptible to paronychia, a skin infection that occurs around your nails. Nail biting may cause your teeth to shift out of their proper position, become misshapen, wear down prematurely, and become weakened. People who chronically bite their nails report significantly higher quality of life impairment than those who do not.
The American Psychiatric Association re-classified nail biting as a form of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), along with other forms of “pathological grooming” but for most people nail biting is simply the result of boredom or stress.
Signs and Symptoms
Nail biting usually leads to deleterious effects in fingers, but also mouth and more generally the digestive system. These consequences are directly derived from the physical damage of biting or from the hands becoming an infection vector. Moreover, it can also have a social impact.
The ten fingernails are usually equally bitten to approximately the same degree. Biting nails can lead to broken skin on the cuticle. When cuticles are improperly removed, they are susceptible to microbial and viral infections such as paronychia. Saliva may then redden and infect the skin. In rare cases, fingernails may become severely deformed after years of nail biting due to the destruction of the nail bed.
Nail biting is also related to oral problems, such as gingival injury, and malocclusion of the anterior teeth. It can also transfer pinworms or bacteria buried under the surface of the nail from the anus region to the mouth. When the bitten-off nails are swallowed, stomach problems can develop.
Nail-biting is also associated to guilt and shame feelings in the nail biter, a reduced quality of life, and increased stigmatization in the inner family circles or at a more societal level.
Ways To Stop Nail Biting
Nail biting is a bad habit that can not only make your hands look unsightly, and ugly but if you bite your nails badly enough, you can permanently damage your nails, teeth, or even your gums. If you are tired of the nail stubs and bleeding, try these simple remedies to promote normal and beautiful nail growth. You don’t want people making fun of you because you have short nails, you want people to comment on how beautiful your nails really are!
- Coat your nails with a bitter-tasting nail biting polish. The nasty taste will discourage you from biting. You can also use a regular clear or colored nail polish to prevent nail biting. The same technique can work with your child.
- Keep nails trimmed short. You’ll have less of a nail to bite.
- Get regular manicures. If you spend the money to keep your nails looking attractive, you’ll be less likely to bite them.
- Use an alternate technique to manage your stress. Try yoga, meditation, deep breathing, or squeezing a stress ball to relax you.
- Put a rubber band around your wrist and snap it whenever you get the urge to bite your nails.
- If you’ve tried these techniques and nothing is working, wear gloves or put self-adhesive bandages on the tips of your fingers so your nails won’t be accessible to bite.
If you’ve tried everything to stop biting your nails and nothing has worked, it may also be time to see your doctor.