Nail biting, a common habit in about 20-30% of the population, can be caused by stress, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or just being bored. It can be a temporary behavior, but it can also develop into a severe, long term problem. Nail biting, medically termed as Onychophagia, can be characterized by seemingly uncontrollable nail-biting that is destructive to fingernails as well as the surrounding tissue.
What happens if you bite your nails?
People who frequently bite their nails may experience both psychological and physical symptoms like:
- Uneasiness or tension prior to biting
- Feeling of relief after biting
- Tissue damage of nails, fingers and cuticles
- Dental problems
- Mouth injuries
Why do we bite our nails?
- Nail biting is associated with anxiety because chewing on nails reportedly relieves stress, tension, or boredom. People, who habitually bite their nails, often report that they do it when they feel nervous, bored, lonely, or even hungry.
- A history of thumb or finger sucking may be one of the causes of nail biting.
- There may be a genetic connection to nail biting.
- It can be associated with Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), separation anxiety, tic disorder, and other mental health issues.
What are the long-term effects of nail biting?
A lot of people have nervous habits such as pacing or fidgeting. While a lot of these are harmless, but nail biting when stressed or anxious exposes you to several ailments.
Your nails are an ideal dwelling place for several germs. When you bite your nails, these bacteria travel from the mouth to the gut, causing stomach infections that lead to diarrhoea and abdominal pain.
It may seem harmless, but it can increase the risk of bacterial or fungal infection entering your blood, and that could lead to cold or flu.
If you bite off a big piece of your nail, you can expose the delicate skin under your nail to any bacteria or pathogens in your mouth. One of the most common infection called paronychia causes pain, redness and pus-filled lumps.
Your saliva’s chemical composition allows it to breakdown fat and other food molecules. While that aids your digestion, but it can also damage and inflame the skin of your fingertips if you are constantly jamming them in your mouth.
Your nails have a layer, called the matrix, from where the nail grows. Biting can damage this matrix, causing nail deformities or chronic ingrown nails.
If you pick warts, contagious material can get into your nails and when you touch your face or neck, you can end up with warts on your neck and face.
Chronic nail biting can deform or destroy the sockets that hold your teeth. It can also fracture your teeth and trigger gum diseases. Also, it doesn’t leave your hand looking aesthetically pleasing but rather more damaged.
How can you stop biting your nails?
You may not be able to change your habit overnight, but with a little time and effort, you’re sure to overcome it.
- Apply bitter (non-toxic) tasting products to the nails. There are special bitter-tasting nail polishes that will make you think twice before biting your nails.
- Cut your nails short. If there isn’t enough nail to bite, you will not have that satisfying feeling.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), with habit-reversal training and progressive muscle relaxation, and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) are also beneficial.
Disclaimer: The above information has been prepared by a qualified medical professional and may not represent the practices followed universally. The suggestions listed in this article constitute relatively common advice given to patients, and since every patient is different, you are advised to consult your physician, if in doubt, before acting upon this information. Lupin Limited has only facilitated the distribution of this information to you in the interest of patient education and welfare.