Why do people bite their nails?

Nail biting is an obsessive behavior that is commonly triggered by stress.


Nail biting is a fairly common habit. According to Huffington Post, about 30% of children between the ages of 7-10 bite their nails; about 45% of teenagers bite their nails; and about 25% of young adults bite their nails. Only 5% of older adults bite their nails. As seen by the data, nail biting is more common in children than adults. In fact, most children with the habit tend to automatically drop the habit over time by the time they turn 30.

However, many people do not realize that it is in fact a medical disorder, categorized under Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The official name for nail biting is onychophagia, and it is commonly clubbed together with other similar disorders such as excoriation disorder (skin picking), dermatophagia (skin biting), and trichotillomania (the urge to pull out hair). All of these often co-exist in a person, or a person with one of the disorder is at an increased risk of developing the other.

All these disorders, as well as nail biting actually stem from normal grooming, which is a behavioral practice common in most animals, including humans. However, in people suffering from these disorders, these behavioral practices of grooming become excessive. Hence, they start being triggered by stress. Anytime a nail biter is stressed, he will subconsciously start nail biting. Then after a while, the behavior becomes untriggered, which means that he will do it with or without being stressed. In fact, he may do it without any triggers or external stimuli at all.

Scientists are also now researching the fact that nail biting may be genetic. Scientists have found that a mouse bred with a specific gene mutation excessively groomed itself, much more than other mice. Its grooming was so excessive that it gave itself bald patches. However, chances of a person acquiring the behavior just because it is genetic, is highly unlikely. It is more likely that the person picked up the habit by seeing someone else and then the behavior just got out of control.

 Nail biting is commonly considered to be a fairly harmless habit, however the truth of the matter is that like everything in life it has certain dangers attached to it. The most common problem is that there are a variety of bacteria living under our nails. Whenever someone bites their nails, they are effectively eating those bacteria. Furthermore, biting nails includes putting our hands in out mouths, and our hands are not always clean, which results in us putting hundreds of other bacteria in our mouth.

In addition to this, nail biting can also destroy the texture of the nails. This effect can be temporary or even permanent. Also, being observed of mail-biting is rarely ever attractive. Many people don’t realize that other than nails, nail biting also has an impact on the teeth. Nail biting puts a lot of stress on the front teeth, which can weaken them and cause them to become crooked or misaligned. Nail biting also keeps the teeth is constant motion, which can wear them down.

There are many treatments that one can try in order to get rid of the nail-biting habit. The common ones are putting a band-aid over the nails, so as to make them inaccessible. One can also put nail polish on the nail, to make them seem unappetizing. There are also solutions available that give a bitter taste to the nails, again making them less appetizing. For worse behavior patterns, there is also behavior therapy available. 

Add new comment

Plain text