Onychophagia is the proper term given to people biting their nails, which can be observed both on kids and adults. It is estimated that around 30% children, 45% teenagers, 25% young adults and 5% adults bite their nails. This habit can be the result of anxiety, stress, imitating a family member, a lack of activity or bad nail caring. On top of being aesthetically unpleasing, the action of nail biting can have an incidence on fingers, teeth and temporomandibular joints (TMJ).
In fact, this bad habit creates dental micro traumas, which can cause enamel fractures. Even if those fractures are only on a superficial level, the repetitiveness of this action can lead to more serious damage and result in the repair of one or more teeth. This teeth wear and tear will also increase teeth sensitivity because the enamel covering the tooth gets damaged.
The multiple traumas and injuries around the nail can also increase the risk of viral or bacterial infections. This can result in developing herpes or warts on fingers or lips.
Also, the bacterias present under your nails can attack your gums and cause gingivitis (gum inflammation) or even mouth ulcers, which will create mouth discomfort.
Furthermore, the act of nail biting requires an effort for the TMJ, which can cause pain, muscular tensions, inflammation or even problems chewing or closing teeth together.
Fortunately, there are solutions to counter this bad habit. The first step is to acknowledge the problem because most people do so unconsciously. Then, it is important to identify the triggering factors: work related stress, anxiety linked to exams or special occasions, moments of solitude… On top of being aware of the problem, the will to get rid of the habit also needs to be present.
Different products can be found on the market to help being aware of the moments when the habit is triggered, such as biter nail polish. On the other hand, some people get used to the taste of the polish and those solutions become useless. Another solution is to discretely apply a bandage or adhesive tape on one given nail, on each hand to start, waiting until the nail has grown back. Once done, repeat the process for remaining fingers. One more solution is to take care of your hand when the habit is triggered; manual labour, stress relieving ball etc. Relaxation technique practices are not to be neglected either because onychophagia is often linked to stress.
Most of all, do not get discouraged if at first you don’t succeed getting rid of this habit. Patience and motivation are the key to success. Keep in mind the beneficial aspects that will be gained and all of the inconvenient linked to onychophagia as much for your nails, your fingers, your mouth, your temporomandibular joints and your teeth.