Most people bite their nails at one point or another, whether as an ongoing habit or the occasional source of stress relief. Around 60% of children bite their nails, but many stop doing it by their late teens, and the number of people over the age of 30 is much smaller. It’s not just a harmless habit, though: nail-biting can lead to a number of problematic issues, from pain to infection to illness.
It goes without saying that biting your nails can damage them, making them brittle and more prone to splitting, and in some cases can compromise nail growth, causing them to grow improperly. Biting can also leave nails and fingertips red, swollen, and sore, especially if they are bitten down to the quick.
Nails aren’t the only thing that can be harmed by biting: teeth also take a beating. Chronic biters may experience tooth aches, and even chipping, misalignment, and other deformities may develop.
The cuticles, skin and soft tissue that surrounds nails are also at risk for pain and damage for nail-biters. The tearing, small cuts, and hangnails that result from biting are not only painful in and of themselves, they also leave the area more vulnerable to infections like paronychia. Bacteria can enter through the broken skin, causing symptoms like peeling, redness, and pain, as well as pus-filled blisters.
Speaking of bacteria, one of the primary reasons to avoid biting your nails is the fact that it’s unsanitary: with fingers and nails constantly in the mouth, bacteria and viruses have easy access to the body. Aside from everything we pick up just by using our hands throughout the day, germs also linger under the tips of the nails. Biting them increases the chance of contracting an illness such as the common cold, or other infections.
Breaking a nail-biting habit can be difficult, but it’s beneficial to your health to try. Tactics like occupying your hands with activities such as knitting, playing with a ball or putty, drawing, and so on when you find yourself biting can help, along with recognizing triggers like stress, boredom, or fatigue. Keeping nails neatly groomed and trimmed can reduce the temptation to bite, as can bitter-tasting nail polish, which is widely available at drug stores.