Health Hazards of Nail Biting

I remember biting my nails in fifth grade.  I never had a need for a clipper because my nails would be bitten as soon as they were long enough to nibble on.  I have no idea if something stressful caused it, or if I was anxious about something back then.  All I recall is that it felt good.  When I look back at it now, I cringe at how unhealthy it was and I’m gladly relieved that I have broken the habit early on.

Statistics show that about 30% of children and adults bite their nails, and a higher percentage engages in this habit in their teens.  There are various possible reasons for this but in most cases, nail biters give in to the impulse in times of stress, anxiety and sometimes out of boredom.  There have also been reports of nail biting as a response to relaxation and hunger.  At the other extreme end, some nail biters have lost control over the habit and already need medical and psychological attention.

Nail biting, or onychophagia, is not just a question of the unattractive result in the appearance of your nails. As it turns out, there can also be risky implications on one’s health. 

Every human activity directly or indirectly involves the use of our hands.  Doctors never get tired reminding us to wash our hands often because touching is the fastest and one of the most effective means of transmitting harmful germs.

Think about this.  Whatever bacteria present in the things that you touch will get transferred to your mouth every time you bite your nails. The risks get higher when the skin around the fingernails gets torn.  This presents an entry point for microorganisms that can lead to infection, such as painful whitlows. 

The area surrounding the nails can also become dry and cracked and very sensitive to pain.  Biters become more prone to hangnails when the cuticle gets broken.

Nail biting also causes several oral complications.  Constant biting on hard objects can cause damage to the teeth in the long run.  Periodontal problems, like gingivitis and cold sores, can rise when bacteria invade the oral cavity.

There is also the problem of intestinal parasites, especially among children nail biters.  Worms, like pinworms, and their eggs may get lodged under the fingernails and get ingested every time you put your hands in your mouth.

Of course, the very contagious colds virus is also another sickness brought about by this hand-to-mouth dilemma.  Apart from physical hazards, a person also experiences lowered self-esteem and elevated tension as side effects of biting the nails. 

No matter the severity of your habit, there are ways to curb this biting urge. The first step, however, is to become aware of this habit and be informed on the need to stop it.

Nail biting looks like a harmless enough practice but it is healthier to scratch that habit.

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