How Nail Biting Affects Your Health

woman in blue shirt biting nails in front of pink background

Nail biting, also known as onychophagia, can transcend from childhood to adulthood. While it is a common habit, it may become a body-focused repetitive behavior when one bites their nails consistently. Initially, the behavior may seem harmless, but in the long run, it can result in several negative consequences ranging from psychological to digestive and bacterial infection issues. This article looks deeper into some of the consequences of severe onychophagia.

Why Do People Bite Their Nails?

While some people may bite their nails simply because they are bored, others can face this challenge because of various underlying mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression. The habit often shows up when one is anxious or stressed. Therefore, it is essential to identify one's triggers to prevent the habit from getting out of hand. It is often a reflex action to an anxious moment as it may provide a sense of relief. Furthermore, it is often a subconscious act, and the afflicted individual may not know when they start chewing their nails, especially when they are frantic. 

Negative Impact of Nail Biting

While nail biting may seem like a harmless habit, it leaves you exposed to infection, digestive and mental health issues, dental damage, and ingrown nails. 

Bacterial and Viral Infections

Biting the nails can cause inflammation and peeling of the skin around the nail bed. The inflammation and peeling often leave one with open wounds, making them susceptible to infections. The self-inflicted injuries can also cause discomfort and pain, especially when infected. Moreover, the mouth has several bacteria that can be transferred to your hands. The most common bacterial infection from nail biting is paronychia, which affects the tissues that border the nail bed. The infection causes painful and red swellings filled with pus.

It's also possible to suffer facial infections from biting your nails. For example, bacteria and viruses may hide under your nails. Touching your face and mouth with contaminated nails may therefore result in infection. 

Digestive Problems 

Inadvertently biting your nails means ingesting harmful substances such as dirt and bacteria, which may result in digestive problems. Our hands are not always clean, and in most cases, people bite their nails subconsciously. One may ingest dirt without knowing, especially if the hands are dirty, causing severe stomach issues.

Mental Health Issues

Although nail biting may seem like a normal and harmless habit, doing it for an extended period may result in psychological and emotional issues. Biting one's nails for a long duration, results in unsightly nails, which may affect one's confidence. The embarrassment and shame of having chewed nails may lower one's self-esteem over time, causing an emotional burden. The frustration and helplessness often result in a heavy emotional and psychological burden that may even lead to depression.

Dental Problems

Nail biting often results in the spread of germs, which may cause dental issues such as gingivitis. The dirt transferred from the nails to the mouth can cause various oral infections. Additionally, the constant grinding between the teeth and nails may result in wearing and chipping of the protective enamel. Furthermore, it may misalign one's teeth over time since it puts constant pressure on the jawbone. The more pressure applied on the jaw bone, the higher the chances of your teeth shifting position, thus causing misalignment. 

Ingrown Nails

Our nails are made up of a generative layer known as the matrix. The role of these special cells is to generate new nails. They also form the bed from which all the nail cells grow. Therefore, constantly biting on the nails and other infections can damage this generative layer, resulting in ingrown nails or other nail deformities, which may also be detrimental to one’s self-esteem.

How to Stop Biting Your Nails

Whether you are trying to quit biting your nails for the first or millionth time, here are some quick tips to help you with that:

  • Pay more attention to when you start biting your nails and the triggers.
  • Find a healthy habit replacement. For example, squeezing stress balls or finding crunchy snacks for distraction.
  • Seek professional help.
  • Lower anxiety levels.
  • Be more gracious to yourself when trying to break the habit.
  • Apply bitter-tasting nail polish for repulsion.

Summing Up 

Nail biting is a habit that often transcends from childhood to adulthood. Despite being a common behavior, as seen by those who practice nail biting when bored, its severity may be due to an underlying mental health condition such as anxiety or stress. While it may be harmless to others, it may harm their overall health and mental well-being. If you or a loved one struggles with nail biting, do not hesitate to seek professional help.

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Nail Biting