Nail biting, or onychophagia, is so common that it’s easy to ignore. But that doesn’t mean it’s healthy! Nail biting has a lot of side effects that can harm your health.
People of all ages can have this habit, but it’s most common in kids. It’s usually seen in kids aged 10 to 18, especially during puberty. In fact, about 50 percent of kids in this age group bite their nails. Some continue into young adulthood, ages 18 to 22 years old. Most stop nail biting by 30. However, the habit can stay past that.1
You’ve probably heard that it’s bad to bite your nails. But do you actually know why? Here’s the lowdown on exactly why you should work on breaking the habit.
5 Reasons You Should Stop Nail Biting
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1. Nail Infections
Your fingernails are home to bacteria – lots of it! After all, the hands touch everything from doorknobs to computers. Biting your nails simply opens up the skin, letting bacteria grow and thrive.
Often, nail infections are caused by Staphylococcus aureus, but sometimes Streptococcus pyogenes, Pseudomonas pyocyanea, and Proteus vulgaris. This condition is known as paronychia and can happen from a minor injury to the nail. Dishwashing and manicures are common causes, but nail biting is at the top of the list.
While it usually only involves one nail, paronychia can be painful. Pus can develop in between the nail and skin, eventually turning into an abscess. Inflammation and redness are also common. If left untreated, the fingernail can even separate from the nail bed. This is called chronic paronychia and can be quite unsightly.
And if you have oral herpes? It’s even more crucial to avoid biting your nails. The fingers can develop herpetic whitlow or a painful infection from the herpes virus.2
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2. Mouth Infections
The bad habit of fingernail biting gives bacteria a free trip into your mouth. The outcome? Painful infections of the gums or throat. This can happen whether or not the nails were infected, to begin with.
In the case of paronychia, nail biting makes it so much worse. Bacteria can transfer back and forth, making it hard for either infection to heal. Oral antibiotics are useful for treatment. However, biting cessation is imperative to stop future infections.
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It’s also possible to catch an infection that impacts the whole body. Remember, a lot of germs live under those fingernails. There’s a reason why washing your hands prevents cold. If you can get sick this way, what more if you bite your nails?
Even after handwashing, the fingernails are often looked over. They’re generally harder to clean. Plus, the longer they are, the more dirt and bacteria they’ll have. Apart from avoiding nail biting, it’s essential to wash under the nails with soap and water.3
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4. Dental Problems
Nail biting also has negative side effects on the teeth. It exposes them to repeated pressure, which weakens the surrounding tissue. The roots of the teeth can also break down. Over time, the edges of the teeth can also start to crack. Speech and eating might slightly change.
In children, biting fingernails may alter tooth placement. This is because their teeth are still growing and vulnerable to outside forces. In these cases, crowding and rotation of teeth aren’t uncommon.
Besides tooth problems, gingivitis can also develop. Continued nail biting will only aggravate the problem and make it hard to heal.4
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5. Unattractive Nails
This habit is a bad look for your nails. The edges will look ragged and uneven which isn’t very attractive. They’ll also look unhealthy and unsanitary.
Remember, other people can easily see your nails. Keep this in mind if you want to look professional and clean. For example, if you work in retail or foodservice, customers will notice your nails when you hand them something. The same goes for professions like receptionists and nurses.
How To Stop Biting Your Nails
So, you want to stop biting nails? Start by identifying triggers, if any at all. You might do it out of stress, anxiety, or boredom. Reach for a stress ball if it’s caused by nervous feelings. If it’s sparked by boredom, look for an activity that will keep your hands busy.
Cutting your nails short is another great technique. The shorter the nail you have, the lesser you can bite! Plus, shorter nails will also harbor fewer bacteria. It’s a win-win.
You can also apply an anti-biting polish to your nails. This over-the-counter remedy is extremely bitter, so you’ll be less likely to bite. It’s also safe and nontoxic.5
With time and patience, you can finally stop biting your nails. Do it gradually and work on one finger at a time. For some adults, chewing gum is a healthy substitute.
|↑1||Nail-biting. University of Michigan.|
|↑2||Rockwell, Pamela G. “Acute and chronic paronychia.” American family physician 63, no. 6 (2001).|
|↑3||Nail Hygiene. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑4||Tanaka, Orlando Motohiro, Robert Willer Farinazzo Vitral, Giulia Yuriko Tanaka, Ariana Pulido Guerrero, and Elisa Souza Camargo. “Nailbiting, or onychophagia: a special habit.” American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics 134, no. 2 (2008): 305-308.|
|↑5||How to stop biting your nails. American Academy of Dermatology.|