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You may have heard scary movies being referred to as “nail biters”. Nail biting is a common reaction to fear, and scary movies often cause this reaction, hence the term. However, when you take a closer look at it, the nail biting itself can be far scarier than the movies. Nail biting or onychophagia is a habit that affects 30 % of children, 45% of teenagers, 25% of young adults, and 5% of the older adult population, and if the aesthetic consequences aren’t reason enough to break the habit, here are a few that might.
The undersides of your nails provide perfect conditions for bacteria to thrive, and that includes potentially disease causing bacteria, such as Salmonella and E.coli. When you bite your nails, these bacteria enter your mouth and gradually make their way into the rest of your body, causing infection. Grosser still, your fingernails may be twice as grimy as your fingers, because they’re harder to keep clean, making them a prime point for introducing infectious organisms to your body.
Nail biting can bring on paronychia, a skin infection occurring around the nails. When you bite your nails, yeast, bacteria, and other microorganisms can enters through tiny cuts, leading to redness, swelling and pus around the nail that may have to be drained surgically.
Warts caused by human papillomavirus, or HPV are a common symptom of nail biting. These can spread to the lips and mouth when you chew your nails.
It is not only the bitees that suffer from nail biting, but the biters as well. Nail biting can upset the way in which your upper and lower teeth come together when your mouth closes. The habit can cause teeth to wear down, shift out of position, become misshapen, or weakened.
Nail biting can be a result of boredom or stress. According to the journal Behavior Research and Therapy, “Nail biting in young adults occurs as a result of boredom or working on difficult problems, which may reflect a particular emotional state. It occurs least often when people are engaged in social interaction or when they are reprimanded for their behavior.”
Breaking the Biting Habit
If you’re facing the challenge of parting with your nail biting habits, here are some helpful tips.
- Keep a journal of when you bite your nails and what you’re doing when you bite them. This will help you identify the nail biting triggers, so you can avoid them.
- Although it may the most socially attractive strategy, wrapping your nails with electrical tape or bandaids is a surefire way to prevent nail biting, at least in the short term.
- Keep nails short or manicured to make it easier to resist the temptation of a ragged nail to gnaw on.
- Keep your hands busy with other activities, such as writing or knitting.
- Put a foul tasting substance on your tigers, such as vinegar or hot sauce.
- Try behavioral therapy, such as habit reversal training.
Are you a nail biter, reformed or otherwise? Let us know how you broke the habit or are planning to break it after reading this article!