Nail biting, clinically popular as “onychophagia”, is an oral compulsive habit, sometimes described as the parafunctional activity of the mouth. Some people may bite nails out of their habit but in often cases it is also characterized as a psychological issue. It is a very bad but a common problem among the general public. In fact, researchers from the University of Calgary have reported 45 percent of adolescents to be nail-biters. In addition, 33 percent of children aging between seven to ten years bite nail as well.
Various studies have reported numerous issues that may occur due to prevalent nail-biting habits among people. Few of the most frequently observed issues are,
Chronic nail biting can lead to various teeth related issues. It can crack or wear down your teeth. It may also lead to Bruxism i.e. the unintentional or involuntary habitual grinding of teeth which may lead to facial pain, headaches and recessing of the gums. Increased and continuous nail biting can also trigger gingivitis or painful inflammation of the gum which in severe cases may cause tooth loss.
Infections and Inflammation
Biting your nails tears off the healthy and protective layer of skin, this may expose the underlying cells to bacteria and other foreign invaders. The oral cavity too inhabits a lot of pathogens which even increases the chances of infections.
Paronychia is one of the most common fingernail infections. It is a kind of skin infection around nails. It can last for weeks at a time and is characterized by swelling, pain, pus-filled lumps, and redness of the fingertips.
Moreover, nail biting can lead to prolonged exposure of your fingers to saliva. Saliva being solvent in nature can lead to skin damage and inflammation.
Nail biting can give you facial warts. In a day, during our usual routine, our hands touch different kinds of objects and surfaces, from doorknobs to toilets to light switches. It may transfer the dirt and other contagious materials from those surfaces to our nails. Biting your nails can expose your mouth or face to such pathogenic organisms which can possibly cause warts to grow on your face, fingers or neck.
At the base of the nails, we have a regenerative layer called the matrix. Adam Friedman, an Associate Professor of Dermatology at George Washington University, explains that biting your nails can damage the matrix. This can consequently lead to chronic ingrown nails or even nail deformities like Pyogenic Granulomas. Small, round growths are seen around the nails which tend to leak and bleed.
If you have oral herpes and you bite your nails too, then you are possibly infecting your fingers with herpetic whitlow. It results in fingers being covered in liquid- or blood-filled sores. Whitlow is basically a lesion caused by herpes simplex virus. Swelling, reddening, and tenderness of the skin of infected finger accompanied by fever and swollen lymph nodes are common characteristics of Herpetic Whitlow.
In addition to all the above-mentioned problems, nail biting can also lead to various illnesses. Nail biters are at an increased risk of catching a common cold, stomach virus, and even hepatitis A. This is because our hands touch almost all kind of surfaces from purest to the dirtiest ones.
In addition, if you are a nail biter and you wear nail polishes and nail paints often, then you could also end up swallowing toxins and chemicals that may pose deleterious effects on your wellbeing.
Mary Lamia, Ph.D., Clinical psychologist, and professor at the Wright Institute in Berkeley, CA states that most of the people bite nails to seek comfort or relief during a disturbing situation like that of stress, anxiety, boredom, or shame. However, in actual they are attacking themselves and putting their selves at greater health risks.
Nail biting not only deteriorates your health but it also destroys the beauty of your hands and fingers. So if you seek comfort in biting your nails then put your comfort aside because you may be leading yourself to greater and hazardous health issues.