Whether it’s a bad habit, a nervous tic or even an addiction, nail biting – known medically as onychophagia – is actually a relatively common occurrence. This incontrollable impulse can, however, lead to various health problems, not to mention that biting nails makes hands look unattractive. So how do you stop?
Nail biting basics
This compulsive behaviour generally begins in early childhood and ceases in adolescence. In some cases, it can continue into adulthood or even start at that time.
Often associated with stress or, on occasion, boredom, nail biting can be triggered by different factors. Identifying these triggers is important since it will make it easier to break the habit.
Good reasons to stop
There are many great reasons to stop chewing your nails. Let’s take a quick look at some of them now; it might just give you the motivation you need to bring the habit under control.
- Nail appearance and pain. Stubby nails, ragged pieces of skin and bloody cuticles are typical consequences of nail biting. Chewing nails until they bleed leads to pain, unsightly looking hands and a greater risk of developing an infection of the fingers known as “panaris.”
- Risk of contamination. We all know that hands and fingers carry many germs, viruses, bacteria and parasites, which want nothing more than to find a host to infect. By constantly bringing hand to mouth, you are paving the way for the stomach flu and other such infections.
- Oral problems. Here again, you run the risk of developing infections, such as canker sores or a fungal infection. Nail biting can affect your teeth, the roof of your mouth and your gums. It can also predispose you to gingivitis.
One problem, many solutions
By now, it should be obvious that pulling the plug on nail biting is a good idea. Here are various solutions to consider, depending on the severity of your particular habit.
- Keep your nails short and clean to lessen the temptation to bite them.
- Apply bitter-tasting nail polish to dissuade you from putting your nails in your mouth.
- Put bandages on your fingertips to limit access to your nails.
- Distract yourself (e.g. play with a stress ball).
- Keep your mouth busy (e.g. chew gum).
- Give your nails a break: get a lovely manicure or apply artificial nails.
- Stop gradually by ceasing to bite one nail at a time (e.g. one per week).
- Learn to relax with meditation, a relaxation technique or physical activity.
- Talk to a therapist.
- Use hypnotherapy.
Wondering about bitter-tasting nail polish? Questions on the stomach flu, finger infections or canker sores? Talk to your family pharmacist for answers!