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Nail biting: Causes and tips to break the habit

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Nail biting is also called onychogamy. Nail biting usually starts in childhood and continues into adolescence. It is also a common behaviour in adolescents.

What are the causes of nail biting (Onychophagia) and possible illnesses?

This behaviour can have many causes and in some cases can lead to serious health problems. Here are the causes of nail biting and the health problems it can cause:

Causes of nail biting

  • Stress and anxiety: When people are stressed or anxious, they can develop bad habits like nail biting.
  • Boredom: Some people are prone to onychophagia when they are bored.
  • Attention deficit: Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may exhibit this behaviour. Parents should be aware of children who bite their fingernails. Fingernail biting in children is a common problem. To encourage the child to stop biting their nails, activities that keep their hands busy, such as painting, drawing or reading, can be suggested.
  • Eating disorders: People with eating disorders may engage in behaviours such as Onychophagia.
  • Mental disorders: Some mental disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, can lead to recurrent behaviours such as nail biter.

Possible illnesses

  • Infections: Onychophagia can lead to cuticle damage and infection.
  • Nail disorders: Onychophagia can disrupt the shape and structure of the nails and prevent them from growing.
  • Dental problems: Onychophagia can lead to tooth decay and temporomandibular joint problems.
  • Bowel problems: Onychophagia can lead to infection with intestinal parasites.

Although nail biting may seem like just a habit, it can lead to serious health problems. Therefore, people who have a habit of biting their fingernails should see a doctor to stop the habit.

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Is nail biting a bad habit?

Yes, nail biting is considered a bad habit. Hand and nail hygiene is an important part of personal health. Biting can cause injury to the nails, nail bed and cuticles. These injuries can lead to infections, fungal infections, nail deformities and even nail loss.

Onychophagia can also damage dental health. Nails are not designed for chewing on teeth, so it can lead to wear and tear, cracks and even tooth loss. In addition, nail biting can cause bacteria to build up in the mouth and on the teeth, which can lead to bad breath and other mouth problems.

Onychophagia can also have psychological effects. People can feel insecure, develop social anxiety and even mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. Therefore, this behaviour can affect a person’s overall health and well-being.

Nail biting often occurs when the person is under pressure or for emotional reasons such as stress, anxiety, sadness or lack of attention. Treatment for nail biting should therefore go hand in hand with addressing these emotional causes. Treatment options include behavioural therapy, medication and relaxation techniques.

In conclusion, Onychophagia causes significant harm and can affect health. Therefore, people who bite their nails should see a health professional to stop the behaviour. In addition, maintaining good hand and nail hygiene is an important step in preventing Onychophagia.

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How to stop nail biting?

The habit of nail biting is a challenge for many people and not easy to overcome. However, here are some suggestions to help you break the habit:

Know yourself

Habits are behaviours that you often do without realising it. Try to be aware of your nail biting and write down when you do it. This can help you to recognise and control your behaviour.

Develop an alternative behaviour

Instead of nail biting, you can develop an alternative behaviour. For example, when you are stressed, you can put your hands together and relax. Or play with an object in your hands, such as a pen or a stress ball.

Clip your fingernails regularly

Cutting your fingernails regularly can help you break the habit. Short nails can help you control your nail biting and prevent you from biting your nails.

Nail cautery

This will help you control your habit without damaging your nails. However, it does not address the causes of your habit and is not enough to treat nail biting on its own.

Dealing with stress

It is well known that nail biting often occurs during times of stress or anxiety. Therefore, learning and using stress management techniques can help control the habit. Activities such as yoga, meditation, deep breathing exercises and exercise can help relieve stress and calm you down.

Get help

Nail biting can sometimes be a serious problem. If you can’t control it yourself, you should see a doctor. A psychologist or behavioural therapist may be able to help you control your habit.

In conclusion, nail biting is a challenging behaviour, but it can be controlled. Self-awareness, developing alternative behaviours, cutting your fingernails regularly, learning stress management techniques and seeking help can help you overcome this habit.

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Biting your fingernails: When should you see a doctor?

Nail biting (onychogamy) is generally considered to be a harmless behaviour. However, this habit can develop into a serious problem and in some cases you may need to see a doctor. Here are some situations where you may need to see a doctor about nail biting:

  • Infection caused by nail biting: If an infection develops because of your habit, you may need to see a doctor. Symptoms of infection may include redness, swelling, pain, pus or scarring.
  • Nail damage: Your habit may damage your nails and change their shape. It is advisable to see a doctor if you notice any abnormal changes in the shape or discolouration of your nails.
  • Psychological effects: Nail biting can cause psychological problems in some cases. It is advisable to consult a psychologist or psychiatrist, especially if it is accompanied by anxiety, depression or other mental disorders.
  • Dental problems: This condition can also cause dental problems. If you notice wear, cracks or decay in your teeth, you should see a dentist.
  • If you cannot control your Onychophagia: If you cannot control your behaviour and it has become a serious problem, you should see a doctor. A psychologist or psychiatrist may be able to help you control your habitual behaviour.

Nail biting: How can a doctor help?

Treatment for nail biting can include behavioural therapy, medication, hypnosis and other therapeutic approaches. Behavioural therapy teaches you alternative ways of controlling your behaviour and identifying triggers. Medication can be used to treat psychiatric disorders associated with onychophagia, such as anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Hypnosis is another treatment option to help control the habit.

How can dengem help with Onychophagia?

Nail biting can have different causes and treatment may involve different therapeutic approaches depending on the person’s situation. If this behaviour becomes a serious problem, it is important to see a doctor. dengem has experienced psychologists to help you!

The psychologists at dengem can help you find the best approach to treatment based on your specific needs and situation. You can always make an appointment with one of our psychologists.




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  • Hsueh, C., & Chen, C. (2022). Prevalence of nail biting and its chronological relationship with tics in child and adolescent outpatients with Tourette syndrome: a single-centre, retrospective observational study. BMJ Open, 12(9), e063874. Nail bitter
  • Lee, D. S., & Lipner, S. R. (2022). Update on Diagnosis and Management of Onychogamie and Onychotillomania. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(6), 3392. Fingernägel kauen abgewöhnen. Nail bitter
  • Lesinskiene, S., Pociute, K., Dervinyte-Bongarzoni, A., & Odeta, K. (2021). Onychogamie as a clinical symptom: A pilot study of physicians and literature review. Science Progress, 104(4), 003685042110502. Nail bitter
  • Siddiqui, J., & Quershi, S. F. (2020). Onychophagia (Nail Biting): an overview. Indian Journal of Mental Health, 7(2), 97. Nail bitter