Do you bite your nails every time you are stressed or anxious? This troublesome habit can not only damage your nails and teeth but also make you prone to infection as the bacteria and viruses can pass from your nails to your mouth and face.
Why do people bite their nails? What can be done to stop this habit? Keep reading to find out.
Why Is It Bad To Bite Your Nails?
Here are the main reasons you should stop biting your nails (1):
- It can make your nails grow back abnormally. Your nails can lose their shape on being bitten, giving them an unkempt look.
- It can spoil your smile. There is a risk of chipping, cracking, or breaking your teeth while biting your nails. Over time, nail biting can also cause problems with your jaw.
- It can trigger diseases. Your hands are no less than a hotbed for germs. These germs can remain perfectly hidden in your nails. When you bite your nails, these germs can enter your body and increase your risk of getting sick.
- Social embarrassment. Nail biting can also cause restriction in social behaviors or behaviors that may need to be done in the presence of others, like drawing and writing.
- Damages nails and surrounding tissues. It can increase the risk of an ingrown nail and also damage the surrounding tissues.
- Can lead to gum injuries. It can also lead to teeth root damage, oral infections, and oral injuries due to the risk of scraping.
Now you know why you should stop biting your nails! But, did you ever wonder what could be causing this weird habit? Let’s find out.
What Causes You To Bite Your Nails?
Nail biting could be a sign of an underlying health condition. Temporary nail biting is relatively non-destructive. However, it can also develop into a long-term problem.
Uncontrollable nail biting that goes on to damage the nails and its surrounding tissues is considered a grooming disorder. It is often termed as onychophagia or onychophagy. This condition is classified as “an obsessive-compulsive and related disorder” (2).
Other possible causes of nail biting are (3):
• The parents of the affected individual have also had a similar habit of nail biting
• Emotional or mental stress
In children, most cases of nail biting are a result of anxiety or boredom. Some children also tend to find this habit quite soothing.
As you have seen, a number of factors could be triggering the habit of nail biting. If you are a chronic nail biter, and this habit has begun damaging your nails, it is recommended that you seek medical help to identify the underlying cause of your condition.
If you are among those individuals who find themselves biting their nails during times of stress or anxiety and want to put a stop to it, here are a few tricks that may help.
How To Stop Biting Nails
1. Keep Your Nails Short
Cutting your nails short and keeping them neat is one of the best ways to prevent nail biting (4). When you don’t have anything to chew on, you will kick the habit eventually.
2. Get Your Manicure Game On
Pamper yourself and get a nice manicure done. Manicures can make your hands as well as nails look attractive. You will be less likely to bite your nails as you don’t want to ruin the manicure.
3. Keep A Check On The Triggers
Find out what triggers you to bite your nails. Do you bite your nails when you are bored? Or is it plain anxiety? Studies have shown that people resort to nail biting when they are bored, hungry, nervous, or stressed (5). Identify the trigger and find ways to deal with it to stop biting your nails.
4. Use Gloves Or Nail Stickers
Another way to stop yourself from biting your nails is to use a pair of gloves or nail stickers. While this may sound silly, if your mouth can’t find your nails, it will be far less tempted to bite them.
5. Keep Them Busy
Yes, keeping your hands and mouth busy might do the trick. Every time you find yourself tempted to bite your nails, get hold of a stress ball or chew gum. You will not be able to bite your nails if your hands and/or mouth are already preoccupied!
6. Use Bitter Nail Polish
The application of bitter-tasting nail polish is an age-old trick to prevent nail biting (6).
7. Try The Gradual Approach
You cannot stop biting your nails overnight. It is a gradual process. Stop biting one fingernail at a time, say your thumbnail, and then extend it to the other fingers, one by one, until you stop biting all nails gradually.
Try any or a combination of the above tips to see which one works the best for you. Do you know of any other tips and hacks that can help one stop biting their nails? Share your tips and feedback with us in the comments section below.
Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions
Is biting your nails a mental disorder?
According to the 5th Edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, long-term nail biting habit or onychophagia is classified as “an obsessive-compulsive and related disorder.” However, nail biting can also be a temporary habit.
How long does it take to break a habit?
It may take about 3 weeks or 21 days of consistent effort to form a habit. And it will take even longer to break an existing one.
- “Nail Biting; Etiology, Consequences and Management” Iranian Journal of Medical Sciences, US National Library of Medicine.
- “Lithium Treatment of Chronic Nail Biting” Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders, US National Library of Medicine.
- “Nail Biting” Clinical Pediatrics. US National Library of Medicine.
- “The effectiveness of a nail-biting prevention program among primary school students.” Journal for Specialists in Pediatric Nursing, US National Library of Medicine.
- “Onychophagia (Nail biting), anxiety, and malocclusion.” Indian Journal of Dental Research, US National Library of Medicine.
- “New Approach to Managing Onychophagia” Case Reports In Dentistry, US National Library of Medicine.