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Why People Bite Their Nails

Who Bite Their Nails

Why Do People Bite Their Nails? – SourceFed

Nail biting is not something new. In fact, it can be traced back to ancient Greece, where the philosopher Cleanthes was said to be addicted to nail biting.

Today nail biting is a lot more common than you would think. Despite the embarrassment and the potential health consequences, between 20 and 30 percent of people do it.

And you can´t just point in one direction and say These are the type of people who bite their nails. Nail biters you will find all over the place big or small, tall or short, young or old, rich or poor, boy or girl, successful or not successful, happy or unhappy, etc. They are everywhere! So no you are not alone with this habit.

I clearly remember that several of my school and football friends were nail biters. And today when I am among other people, it does not take me long to spot some nail biters.

If you look at age groups, the majority of nail-biters are young kids and teenagers. It is estimated that around 45 percent of teenagers are nail-biters at some point. And though most quit again by themselves, we can still see that many take this habit into adulthood. I was one of them!

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Psychology Of Nail Biting

Many people bite their nails at some point, especially as children. Its a type of body-focused repetitive behavior that goes by the clinical name of onychophagia.

Theres a spectrum of nail biting. It can range from an occasional benign behavior to a deeply ingrained self-mutilative behavior.

Many people who begin biting their nails as children eventually outgrow the habit. For others, it becomes a lifelong habit that can be extremely difficult to quit.

Lets take a closer look at why people bite their nails, how to change the behavior, and when its time to see a doctor.

Nail biting typically begins in childhood and may accelerate during adolescence. Its not always clear why someone develops this particular habit, but once it starts, it can be difficult to manage.

/4why Do You Bite Your Nails

You might know several people who bite their nails, including you. The habit of biting nails may look harmless but it is not. You will be surprised to know that habit also has a name, onychophagia. Many people pick this habit in childhood and outgrow it with age. But there are times when nail biting becomes a lifelong habit and that is when you need to pay attention to it.

Here is why some people bite their nails and the best way to get rid of the habit.

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How Common Is Nail Biting

Nail-biting is thought to be the most common of the body-focused repetitive behaviors. The most commonly cited research studies estimate that 20 to 30 percent of the population bite their nails. Children and adolescents are most prone to nail-biting, with some estimates suggesting that almost 40 percent of children and nearly half of teenagers bite their nails.

Assessing The Impact Of Onychophagia

Why Do People Bite Their Nails?

While there is no assessment tool specific to onychophagia itself, some research has centred on the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. This mental health tool is able to assess a variety of emotional and behaviour problems, including inattention and hyperactive behaviour, emotional symptoms, conduct problems, and prosocial behaviour. When dealing with onychophagia, it can be useful to consider the issues covered in this questionnaire as a way to look for relationships/associations that may influence the individuals nail-biting habit.

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Many Theories Hard To Pin

There is a medical name for excessive nail biting: onychophagia. Psychiatrists say it is an impulse control problem many people do it when they are under-stimulated, like bored, or over-stimulated like stressed or anxious.

There are various theories that show why people bite their nails:

One theory is that such body-focussed issues are linked to perfection.. It can be that ripping off an oddly shaped nail can provide a great sense of satisfaction – and this quest can sometimes go out of hand and become a compulsive habit.

So chill, your irritating habit might just be your perfectionist tendencies coming back, literally, to bite you!

A second theory says the habit could go back to evolution. The uncontrollable urge to constantly pick on things go back much deeper than we realise. Lots of other animals do it too like cats lick themselves excessively, some horses bite their own flanks!

A third theory says that, maybe we just bite our nails because they are right in front of us and offer a momentary distraction. Putting your fingers in the mouth is the most easy thing to do and I completely agree with this theory. I dont feel there is a special reason, nail biting is simply the result of a lot of random factors which create a bad habit. So clearly, there is no particular connection between Britney Spears, Kate Middleton and me!

Is Nail Biting A Sign Of Intelligence

Why do people bite their toenails, why do they do it and what does this all mean? Is nail biting an indication of intelligence or does it have something to do with the toenails having a fungal infection? Is nail biting a symptom of toenail abnormality?

Some people bite their nails not because they are stupid or prone to such actions but because they like to eat their toenails. Nail biters often bite the nails because they like to eat the toenails, this is a normal behavior for them.

Is nail biting a sign of intelligence or is it just a sign that they cant stand not having their own claws? Some people bite their toenails for the sole reason of keeping their claws in shape others will bite theirs so that they have something to bite when they have nothing around them.

Some toenails are just so hard that your average person cant eat them and as a result they dont want to throw them away, they might even try and trade them with someone else because they dont like to throw their claws away.

If you think nail biting is a sign of intellect then you are probably a sociopath or at least a very primitive type of human being. These types of people are often times very lazy and uneducated, much like cavemen were.

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Why You Should Stop Nail Biting

I know that stopping nail biting is easier said than done. But having a reason to stop is one of the first steps in the right direction.

It is easy to come up with several reasons to why you should stop nail biting. I will give you 3 good ones here.

The germsEvery day our hands get in contact with thousands of germs. They are transferred to us when we use public transportation, shaking peoples hands, using the coffee machine, preparing a meal and typing the keyboard. They are everywhere.

And the perfect place for them to live under your nails!

These germs can include bacteria like Salmonella and E.Coli. And every time you bite your nails, you transfer them into your mouth. From there, they have good access to the rest of the body.

You can get a worm infectionWhen you bite your nails, you increase the possibility of getting pinworms.

The embarrassmentFor me, nail-biting was a huge embarrassment and I honestly think it is for most nail biters. The bitten nails and damaged skin around them give your hands an unattractive appearance. For many people, this will cause a feeling of shame and embarrassment.

Especially when I got older and started to work, I found my nail biting habit very problematic. I would be among other adults and suddenly realize I was sitting with a finger in my mouth biting my nails. Did anybody notice? I hope not!

If you want to get more reasons to stop nail biting, read my list of 9 good reasons why you should stop nail biting.

Nail Biting And Dysmorphia

Why Do People Bite Their Nails ? Secret Behind Biting Nails| Nail Biting Habit | Ethnic Health Court

If left untreated, severe onychophagia can lead to dysmorphic dental problems, including:

  • Malocclusion of the front teeth
  • Crowding, attrition and rotation of the teeth noted on X-rays
  • Attrition of the incisional edge of the mandibular incisors
  • Protrusion of the maxillary incisors .

These problems can affect the individuals physical appearance, but this can be avoided if the nail-biting habit is broken early.

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Nail Biting’s Cause Is Hard To Pinpoint

When it comes to picking out the causes for a nail biting habit, psychologists have pinpointed virtually everything under the sun. Some stick to a fairly conventional explanation: that it’s due to preoccupation, boredom, tiredness, or a wish for simple comfort. Others, however, have more out-there explanations. Sigmund Freud thought that it indicated some kind of fault in your psychosexual development since childhood . Suggestions have also included that it’s about self-mutilation and a sign of inward aggression toward yourself. Which, if you ever just pick idly at a nail on a slow day, may make you slightly freak out.

Another theory, however, is that there isn’t really a universal cause â that the habit develops for many different reasons, and that the behavior happens to be the same because nails are easily accessible, and we grow up putting things in our mouths. You may bite your nails because you need an outlet for your stress while doing taxes, while your friend may bite them to take the edge off on a long car ride. It’s all part of the same spectrum. The problem with this? It becomes much harder to “cure” something when there isn’t a distinct cause.

How Do You Quit Nail Biting

After reading about the bacterias or gum disease you can get from nail biting, you would assume anybody could quit this habit in less than a second, right?But it is not that easy and there is no one single recipe for stopping nail biting. Just like any other bad habits, different techniques will work for different people. And most nail biters are not even aware when they do it.

So how do you get rid of this bad habit?

Mostly we can boil it down to a simple basic strategy, looking much like this:

  • Find out when you started biting your nails.Did something special happen in your life? What made you bite your first nail?
  • Identify the triggers.When do you bite your nails? In front of the TV? Driving the car? Reading a book? All the time?
  • Find alternatives or remove/block your triggers
  • The biggest challenge here is finding out how to remove the triggers. But the more you know about your triggers, the easier it is. Most properly you will end up using several techniques.

    The above is just the basic strategy. If you want to read more about how you can stop your nail biting, then read my post How to Stop Nail Biting.

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    How To Stop Children From Biting Their Nails

    If your child bites their nails, theyre not the only one. Around 50% of children between 10 and 18 bite their nails at least occasionally, and for many kids, the habit starts even younger.

    Its one of the most common nervous habits, a category that also includes hair-twisting, nose-picking, and thumb-sucking. Formally, its characterized as a body-focused repetitive behavior. While some kids bite their nails because they are fidgety, others dont know what else to do when they feel anxious. Fingernail biting can be self-soothing.

    In addition to being unpleasant to witness, nail-biting could do some damage to your childs teeth and nails. So, if your child is particularly aggressive when theyre gnawing on their nails, it may be important to address the issue with their dentist.

    For the most part, nail-biting doesnt create any serious health issuesand it usually isnt a sign of a deeper-rooted issue. Instead, its just a little nervous habit that often drives parents nuts.

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    /4why Do You Need To Stop The Habit

    Why People Bite Their Nails

    Biting your nail can often damage your cuticle and the tissues around it. Though there is no long term damage, you may experience some soreness around the nails. Your nails start looking abnormal and you become more prone to fungal infection due to passing bacteria from your fingers to your mouth.

    Swallowing bitten nails can put you at a higher risk of stomach and intestinal infections.

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    Manage Stress And Anxiety

    One method to stop nail biting is to learn the triggers that make you anxious, stressed, or bored. If youre unable to stop, and nail biting becomes more and more habitual, talk to your healthcare provider to get a referral to a therapist. With therapy, you can learn cognitive behavioral therapy methods to identify or modify your behavior. If you have a disorder, you may need to be treated appropriately with medication.

    What Are The Side Effects Of Nail

    Possible physical side effects of nail-biting include damaged or disfigured nails and skin, skin infections, fungal infections, and mouth pain or tooth damage. Individuals who swallow the bitten nails may be at risk for stomach or intestinal infections as well. Because nails and fingers often carry bacteria or viruses, biting them may transmit pathogens into the body, potentially increasing the risk of internal infections or gastrointestinal problems.

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    Q: When Is Nail Biting A Problem That Needs Medical Attention

    A: If nail biting causes physical harm and psychological distress, then professional treatment is necessary. Usually, the person knows the behavior is problematic, but they cant control it on their own. It is important to seek help if the behavior is affecting mental and physical health:

    • Damage to the nail, cuticle or surrounding skin.
    • Psychological damage .
    • Relationship problems.

    How To Quit Biting Your Nails


    Different psychologists recommend slightly different techniques for quitting, but they mostly boil down to one common strategy: identifying the circumstances that lead you to bite, and changing them. “We try to identify all the triggers and control them in various ways either by blocking them or by finding substitutes,” Penzel says.

    For instance, if you habitually bite your nails while watching TV, you might chew gum or use your hands to play with an object whenever you sit down on the couch to watch. You might also set out signs and reminders next to the couch, reinforcing the idea that you do not want to bite.The same goes for different emotions or feelings that usually make you bite: if being frustrated is a trigger for you, try to alter the circumstances in some way, by giving yourself something else to do or making it harder to bite.

    you can try a clear nail polish that tastes absolutely terrible

    If you still can’t stop, there’s also a way to make nail biting way less palatable no matter what the circumstance: clear nail polishes that taste absolutely terrible. They’re harmless, but once you paint these on, even brief contact between your mouth and your nails will leave a bitter, disgusting taste in your mouth until you eat something else. Some people have success combining this with other strategies.

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    Can Therapy Help With Nail Biting

    Yes. Therapy, especially CBT or ACT, can help someone identify and manage the repetitive thoughts or emotional triggers that drive nail-biting. A specific form of therapy known as habit reversal training focuses on becoming aware of ones biting triggers, identifying replacement behaviors , and cultivating social support. HRT has been shown to be highly effective in treating BFRBs, especially in the short-termover the long-term, more comprehensive approaches that include a cognitive-behavioral element are typically most effective.

    Cures Include Reprogramming Your Brain And Befriending Your Fingernails

    Studies about how to quit biting your nails tend to focus on habit-forming, and how to disengage with a bad one. The usual method? Override your old habit with a new one by “tricking” your brain using rewards, awareness exercises, and other methods.

    Other fixes are a bit more bizarre. An expert at Psychology Today recommends “befriending” your fingers and imagining a relationship with each â one that could be derailed by the pain you cause by “biting” them. No word on whether you’re supposed to name all of your digits, but it certainly doesn’t seem like the best plan to be muttering apologies to Myrtle in the checkout line.

    The science on which one is “best” is a bit thin, likely because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all cure. If, however, you would like nails that aren’t weaker than your ex-boyfriend’s excuses, start with the basics and get more complicated from there.

    Images: Giphy

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    Take Your Teeth Into Consideration

    You may have your dental hygiene routine down but biting your nails could be setting your mouth health back, bigtime.

    Biting your nails can cause problems down the line like cracked and chipped teeth. Use this as motivation to stop biting your nails unless you really do want to go and sit in that dentist chair.

    How Is Onychophagia Treated

    9 Reasons Why You Should Not Bite Your Nails

    The treatment for onychophagia depends on the severity of the nail-biting habit:

    • No treatment is necessary for mild onychophagia as a child can often outgrow the habit.
    • Dermatologists recommend keeping the nails short and neatly trimmed, manicured, or covered to minimise the temptation to nail-bite.
    • The application of bitter-tasting compounds to the nails to discourage nail biting is controversial and not very effective.
    • Behaviour modification treatment can be effective.
    • Any underlying mental health problem or psychiatric disorder should also be managed.

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