Nail biting is a bad habit that’s become so common that it’s earned itself the clinical name of “onychophagia”.
In fact, researchers from the University of Calgary have found that as much as 45 percent of adolescents are nail-biters, while almost 33 percent of children in the seven to 10 age group do it as well.
As prevalent as it is among the population, indulging in it can lead to more serious health problems. More than just unsightly nails, you could damage other parts of the body.
Nail biting can lead to tooth problems — Chronic nail biting can crack, wear down, or even chip your teeth. Deformed and destroyed teeth are the least of your worries; nail-biting puts you at greater risk of bruxism or the unintentional grinding of teeth that can cause facial pain, recessed gums, and even headaches. That’s not even discussing the possibility of triggering gingivitis or painful gum inflammation, which you can get if you continue to bite your nails.
Nail biting can cause infections — When you bite your nails, you could accidentally tear off a big piece that exposes the skin underneath. Because our mouths are full of bacteria, you risk exposing that delicate skin to bacteria or pathogens when you lean in for a bite. Paronychia is one of the most common fingernail infections and can last for weeks at a time. Swelling, pain, pus-filled lumps, and redness are a few of the conditions caused by this infection. (Related: Your nails and your overall health.)
Nail biting can cause inflammation — Your mouth isn’t just full of bacteria, it’s also full of saliva that breaks down food molecules and aids in digestion. Constantly exposing your fingers to saliva — itself a solvent — can lead to skin damage and inflammation.
Nail biting can give you facial warts — Everyday, we touch all kinds of objects and surfaces, from doorknobs to toilets to light switches. During that time, dirt and other contagious materials can get stuck under our nails. Touching your mouth or your face with those contaminated nails can cause warts to grow on your face or your neck. You can even develop warts on your fingers, points out Shape.com.
Nail biting can lead to ingrown nails or nail deformities — The “matrix” is the regenerative layer of cells at the base of nails. Adam Friedman, an Associate Professor of Dermatology at George Washington University, explains that biting or biting-related infections can cause damage to the matrix. This, in turn, can produce chronic ingrown nails or even nail deformities like pyogenic granulomas. These small, round growths tend to ooze and bleed.
Nail biting can lead to illness — We’ve already established that our hands come into contact with all kinds of things on a daily basis. If the germs and pathogens from those objects lingered on your hands and have somehow entered your mouth, then you could be setting yourself up for a bad case of illness. Which one? According to Friedman, there’s no limit. You risk catching a common cold, stomach virus, and even hepatitis A. If you wear nail polish, you could also end up swallowing toxins and chemicals that have no place being inside your body.
Nail biting may be comforting at first, but keep at it and you could do more serious damage to yourself. So don’t nibble on your nails. You might just bite off more than you can chew.