Nail Biting: More than just a Bad Habit

Nail biting, or onychophagia, is a relatively common habit.

Estimates suggest that 30 percent of children, 45 percent of teens, 25 percent of young adults and five percent of older adults bite their nails.

Some people unintentionally pick up the habit simply as a way to keep their nails short. Others start biting their nails to cope with stress. For some, the reasons can be numerous.

Nail biting
Nail biting can lead to tooth wear and weakness.

But the negative effects of biting your nails don’t end at uneven fingernails.

Some people bite beyond the nail to the cuticles, which can create a problem with skin health. Nail biters are susceptible to a skin infection called paronychia, which leads to swelling, redness and puss around the nail that may require surgical draining. Bacterial infections caused by nail biting are actually one of the most common nail problems, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).

Your nails are also a place where pathogenic bacteria like Salmonella and E. coli can thrive.  Your fingers are involved in many of the things you do and even if you wash your hands often, germs and bacteria can hide underneath the fingernails and grow.

While bacteria may be microscopic, a dentist can usually see the negative effects of nail biting within moments after looking in the mouth of a chronic nail biter.

Nail biting can interfere with proper dental occlusion, or the manner in which your upper and lower teeth come together when you close your mouth. Nail biting can wear your teeth down, weaken your teeth and shift them out of their proper position.

The Academy of General Dentistry estimates that frequent nail biters aren’t just taking a bite out of their nails. The AGD estimates that frequent nail biters rack up $4,000 in additional dental bills over the course of their lifetime, taking a serious bite out of their wallet.

To stop nail biting, one has to not only control their anxiety but also break the habit.

One way to stop nail biting is to replace the habit with something more productive. Try spinning your wedding band in your finger or a rubberband – anything to train yourself out of biting your nails.

Preventative measures like keeping your nails trimmed short or manicured can help, too.


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