I often see patients in the clinic who bite their nails. This is not their primary concern, however, I notice it during skin exams.
Nail biting typically begins in childhood and can continue through adulthood, and the side effects can be more than cosmetic. Repeated nail biting can make the skin around your nails feel sore, and it can damage the tissue that makes nails grow, resulting in abnormal-looking nails. Chronic nail biting can also leave you vulnerable to infection as you pass harmful bacteria and viruses from your mouth to your fingers and from your nails to your face and mouth.
To help you stop biting your nails, you can follow some of these tips that I have found useful for patients:
1) Keep your nails trimmed short: Having less nail provides less to bite and is less tempting.
2) Apply bitter-tasting nail polish to your nails: Available over-the-counter, this safe, but awful-tasting formula discourages many people from biting their nails.
3) Get regular manicures: Spending money to keep your nails looking attractive may make you less likely to bite them. Alternatively, you can also cover your nails with tape or stickers or wear gloves to prevent biting.
4) Replace the nail-biting habit with a good habit: When you feel like biting your nails, try playing with a stress ball. This will help keep your hands busy and away from your mouth.
5) Identify your triggers: These could be physical triggers, such as the presence of hangnails, or other triggers, such as boredom, stress, or anxiety. By figuring out what causes you to bite your nails, you can figure out how to avoid these situations and develop a plan to stop. Just knowing when you’re inclined to bite may help solve the problem.
6) Try to gradually stop biting your nails: Some doctors recommend taking a gradual approach to break the habit. Try to stop biting one set of nails, such as your thumb nails, first. When that’s successful, eliminate your pinky nails, pointer nails, or even an entire hand. The goal is to get to the point where you no longer bite any of your nails.
For some people, nail biting may be a sign of a more serious psychological or emotional problem. If you’ve repeatedly tried to quit and the problem persists, consult a medical provider.
If you have any dermatology needs, the providers at Advanced Dermatology & Skin Cancer Center would be pleased to be a part of your health care.
Fayetteville: 1444 E Stearns St. Fayetteville, AR 72703 (479-718-7546)
Bentonville: 701 NW McNelly Rd. Bentonville, AR 72712 (479-268-3555)
Ryan Crowder MPAS, PA-C
Article adapted from an original article by the AAD.