Dr. Sunil - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Sunil

Is Biting Your Nails Bad For You?

Also Known As: onychophagy, onychophagia



Short answer

Nail biting, besides being a sign of an underlying mental problem, can have negative consequences to your health. It is best to avoid nail biting entirely and seek help if you find yourself not being able to stop.



Long answer

At its most harmless, nail biting is an annoying, often embarrassing habit. However, there are consequences far greater than mild annoyance. Nail biting, or onychophagia, is a habit most common in teenagers (45%) and young adults (25%) that may continue through later adulthood at which point it affects approximately 5% of the population. Common causes include stress, depression, and boredom. While nail biting does not have any major long-term effects on the nails, several other areas are prone to developing problems.

First is the risk of introducing pathogenic bacteria into the system. Various bacteria live under the fingernails, such as E. coli and Salmonella, making nail biting an easy way to become sick. The chances of you becoming sick are low and vary based on hygiene, but it is still something to be aware of.

The areas affected by nail biting are the skin around and under the nails, the teeth, and the mouth. Biting nails may lead to skin abrasions through which bacteria can enter, causing problems such as swelling and pus. This is known as paronychia. In extreme cases, surgery may become necessary. One bacteria that may enter due to nail biting is wart-causing HPV (not the same as the HPV strain associated with cancer), which may be transferred to the mouth.

Chronic nail biting may also lead to dental problems such as misalignment of the teeth, weakened teeth, and the teeth becoming misshapen. Other risks associated with nail biting include gingivitis and nail fungus. Keeping your hands busy and nails neatly trimmed are two easy ways to overcome nail biting.

Possible short-term side effects

  • aesthetically displeasing nails
  • embarrassment
  • paronychia
  • gingivitis
  • warts
  • nail fungus
  • swelling / pus
  • illness from bacteria

Possible long-term side effects

  • anxiety
  • weakened teeth
  • misalignment of the teeth

Healthier alternatives

  • keeping hands busy
  • keeping nails trimmed properly

Suggest improvement or correction to this article
Written by Jeff Volling | 12-28-2015

Written by Jeff Volling
Suggest improvement or correction

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