Anyone can develop the habit of nail-biting. Statistics reported that about half of children ten years old to 18 years old bite their nails, a habit that usually starts during puberty.
By age 18 to 22, the percentage of nail-biters decrease, while a smaller portion of adults succumbs to the habit. Usually, nail-biters stop at the age of 30.
Also known as onychophagia, nail biting is considered an oral compulsive habit (repeated movements involving the mouth) and a parafunctional activity (a habitual exercise of a body part, in this case, the mouth, in a manner different from what it is commonly used for).
Some studies report that children whose parents were or are nail-biters are more likely to develop the habit whether their the parents stopped nail-biting before their birth.
It is also a common habit usually done during a period of anxiety, boredom, inactivity, excitement, and stress, and associated with an emotional or psychological disorder as a symptom.
However, onychophagia is not always stress-induced as a lot of individuals bite their nails even when doing recreational activities like socializing, conversing, watching television, or reading.
Nail biting does not typically lead to serious side effects or permanent damages. Still, the habit has its disadvantages that can be harmful to the health.
- Bad-looking nails. Perfect-looking nails will not be a possibility if you bite your nails because the habit harms the tissues around the nails, resulting in abnormal-looking nails. A long-time habit of nail-biting can also deform the nails and break the skin on the cuticle.
- Embarrassment. Since nail-biting damages the appearance of your nails, it can cause distress and affect your daily activities including writing in public places, using your smartphone, or when drinking.
- Dental problems. Nail biting does not only affect the aesthetics of your nails and cause you embarrassment, but the habit can pose problems on oral health. When you bite your nails, you increase the tendency of chipping, cracking, and breaking your teeth. It can also lead to jaw problems, gingival injury, and malocclusion of the anterior teeth as the tooth sockets can be deformed. Through nail-biting, bacteria and pinworms found on the surface of the nail can transfer to the mouth and trigger periodontal diseases.
- Illnesses. Aside from the oral health, the habit of nail-biting can also be problematic for the body. As nails are not as hygienic as we intend them to be, germs can linger on the nails, get into the mouth, and may travel down to other parts of the body. The habit also causes skin damage that provides an easy way for germs to enter your body. What is more dangerous is when you bite and eat your nails, making your stomach pay the price of your habit.
Stopping a habit like nail-biting is not easy and may need time to break it entirely. Still, there are methods you can do to stop the nail-biting habit.
You can try cutting your nails short so that your teeth will not have enough nail to bite. You can also use bitter-flavored nail polish to give your nails a terrible taste and make you hesitate to take a bite.
Also, you can wear gloves or keep your hands and mouth busy to drift your mind away from the desire to bite your nails. It will also be helpful to root your triggers and resolve it from there.