How to Stop Biting Your Nails

woman biting on broken nail in front of green and blue background

Nail biting is a common habit in people of all ages. However, this seemingly harmless habit can have negative effects on both physical and mental health. Although it may be challenging, it is possible to overcome. This article will discuss what nail biting is, the potential causes, and ways to stop it.

What Is Nail Biting?

Nail biting, also known as onychophagia, is the act of continuously biting one's fingernails. It is often triggered by stress, fear, or anxiety. This behavior falls under the category of "body-focused repetitive behaviors" and can lead to deformed nails, emotional stress, and even infection. While it may provide temporary relief, it can become a repetitive and difficult habit to break. In some cases, individuals may even bite other people's nails, which can be a challenging habit to overcome.

Common Causes of Nail-Biting

Nail biting is a habit that often begins in childhood, but can persist into adulthood. Common causes of nail biting include:

Stress and anxiety

Nail biting is a major symptom of stress, anxiety, or challenging emotions. When an individual gets stressed or experiences an overwhelming feeling, they may likely begin to bite their nails repetitively to provide a sense of relief.


Boredom is another common cause of nail-biting. People tend to bite their nails when they are idle, bored, or lonely as a way to pass the time and deal with the trigger.

Psychiatric conditions

While it can be a standalone condition for a person, this habit can also arise as a result of underlying psychiatric conditions. Some of them include separation anxiety, withdrawal syndrome, Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), tic disorder, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). 


This condition begins in childhood for a lot of individuals. As children are very impressionable, they tend to copy things that they see. Copying nail-biting in your childhood can turn into a lifelong habit if care is not taken.

Symptoms of Nail-Biting 

In most cases, nail biting does not have any long-term, negative impacts on your health. However, you may need to seek help if you observe the following symptoms:

  • Obsessive nail-biting
  • Deformed nails
  • Discolored nails 
  • Injuries or blisters around nails 
  • Dental attrition 
  • Deformed teeth

Effects of Nail-Biting

Constantly biting the nails can have adverse effects on a person’s quality of life. Damaged nails and nailbeds can cause soreness and embarrassment, resulting in further emotional distress. Biting your nails can also put an individual at risk of infection, such as onychomycosis in the nail plate, or paronychia which is an infection of the skin surrounding the nails. This infection can also be transmitted to the mouth and cause the individual to become ill.

Onycophagia can also result in dental issues such as protrusion of your upper front teeth, dental attrition, crowding, rotation of the teeth, and malocclusion, which refers to the improper alignment of teeth. These cosmetic effects on your nails and teeth may cause individuals to develop low self-esteem. The act itself may cause an individual to withdraw from friends and family due to guilt and embarrassment. 

How To Stop Biting Your Nails

If you are struggling with nail-biting, here are some great tips on how to stop the habit:

Keep your Nails Short

Short nails are less likely to be chewed or bitten. Regularly cut your nails with a nail trimmer to reduce the temptation to bite them.

Use a Bitter Nail Polish

Applying a nail polish that tastes bitter is a good way to discourage you from biting your nails. This will also help make you aware of when you bite your nails, allowing you to better recognize the cause.

Identify your Triggers 

Identify the situations or moods that trigger your nail biting. For instance, if you tend to bite your nails when anxious, practicing stress management techniques to reduce your anxiety could also reduce your nail biting. 

Join a Support Group

Having a reliable support group can help you navigate through your BFRB and make you feel less alone. The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors can help you find a support group that’s right for you.

Seek Professional Help

When nail biting becomes a repetitive behavior, it may require professional help. Seek a professional with experience working with body-focused repetitive behaviors. While each case is unique, therapy and medication has proven an effective way to manage BFRBs. 

Find Support at The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors

If you or a loved one is struggling with nail biting, you are not alone. While it can be a difficult habit to break, it is achievable. Our organization provides you and your loved ones with the support and information necessary to overcome your BFRB. Register for an event or sign up for our newsletter to learn more!

Diagnosis & Treatment
Nail Biting