You’re nervous, stressed, worried, and/or bored. That huge test is today, the bus broke down so you’re going to be late to that thing, you’re waiting to hear whether or not the Braves won so you’ll know if your Cardinals still have a chance to make it to playoffs, or…you just have nothing better to do.
If you’re involved in any scenario like the ones mentioned above, it wouldn’t be surprising to find you have a habit of biting your nails.
Nail biting is fairly common among children and teens. About 30% of children ages 7-10 develop a habit and that later increases to 45% in teenage years. Boys tend to bite their nails more than girls, and those with an obsessive compulsive disorder are more likely to develop a habit than those who don’t.
Your finger and toe nails are made of keratin, a protein that is strong enough to scratch through tough surfaces but soft enough to reach that small itch without hurting yourself. Your hands are the second dirtiest part of your body when it comes to number of germs, meaning lots of germs live underneath and around your nails. So when you don’t want to pay attention to whatever might be going on, you stick your fingers in your mouth and start chomping on all that skin and keratin. What’s so bad about that, right?
Let’s start with introducing the flora of skin bacteria to your mouth. When you proceed to bite your nails, you basically intake all the germs that your hands and nails have touched throughout the day. You might as well lick a doorknob. The bacteria on your skin is harmless because there are other bacteria to combat them. But when you introduce these bacteria to your mouth, the bacteria and cells inside you don’t know how to defend against these foreign invaders and you may become sick.
The cuticles and skin around your nails needs to remain soft in order for your nails to continue growing. When you bite your nails, you also risk biting the skin around them. This exposes your blood to all the bacteria growing on your skin and in your mouth.
Not only is biting nails damaging to your skin, but it can also cause problems for your teeth. The rough keratin scratching the layers of your front teeth can lead to dental erosion. Sometimes a sharp nail can also cut the gums and cause bleeding. When you chomp off little pieces of your nails and swallow them, it can also cause problems for your stomach and digestive track.
Biting your nails is a tough habit to break because people who do it fail to recognize that it’s a problem or refuse to correct it. The most common and cheap way to fix a nail biting problem is to paint your nails with clear nail polish. The bitter taste of the polish will discourage you from biting your nails, and it’s clear so it’s hardly noticeable. If you have children that bite their toenails, footed pajamas can help remind them not to bite. For women, get a nice manicure so you’ll be less tempted to bite your polished $25 fingers.
If none of those work, it may be necessary to seek behavioral therapy. Nail biting isn’t a life-ruining habit, but it should be taken care of if you can’t get it under control.
And if you desperately need to chew on something, may I suggest something healthy such as an apple? 🙂