By Alice || Edited by Go Ask Alice Editorial Team || Last edited Feb 23, 2024
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Alice! Health Promotion. "How can I take care of my nails if I’m a chronic nail biter?." Go Ask Alice!, Columbia University, 23 Feb. 2024, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/how-can-i-take-care-my-nails-if-im-chronic-nail-biter. Accessed 24, May. 2024.

Alice! Health Promotion. (2024, February 23). How can I take care of my nails if I’m a chronic nail biter?. Go Ask Alice!, https://goaskalice.columbia.edu/answered-questions/how-can-i-take-care-my-nails-if-im-chronic-nail-biter.

Dear Alice,

I am curious as to whether the nail bed regenerates or not. I used to bite my nails, and slowly I've bitten off some of the nail bed as well, on all ten fingers. It has been two years, and the nail bed does not seem to grow back, and my nails grow according to the new shape of the nail bed. It makes my hands look somewhat ugly, to be honest.

Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Dear Reader,

Here’s some food for thought for you to nibble on: occasional nail biting is unlikely to change the way your nails grow. However, habitual nail biting can cause irreversible damage to the nail bed and may cause your nails to grow back in a different shape. Keeping your nails clean and trimmed and speaking with a dermatologist about how to take care of your nails may help to prevention any potential nail injury. Additionally, working with a mental health provider to develop healthier coping strategies may be helpful as you move forward. It may be helpful to remember that beauty is only skin deep, but nail health isn’t. There are so many reasons to care-a-ton about your keratin—read on to learn more!

People bite their nails for a variety of reasons. For some, chronic nail biting, or onychophagia, is an unconscious habit. For others, it’s an intentional activity that relieves tension and provides relief. Some factors that may contribute to nail biting include stress, boredom, and inactivity. Nail biting is also associated with anxiety and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Additionally, some research suggests that nail biting may be influenced by genetics, as the habit tends to run in families.

Beyond uneven nails and ragged cuticles, chronic nail biting can also lead to several complications. These can include:

Shortening of the nail plate: The nail plate (your actual fingernail) lies on top of the nail bed (the pink-colored tissue containing blood vessels and nerves). Chronic nail biting can cause partial or complete loss of the nail plate. This exposes the nail bed directly underneath it. Once exposed, the nail bed keratinizes, which means that it no longer adheres to the nail plate. This can lead to irreversible shortening of the nail plate as the new nail grows in.

Infection of the nail folds: Bacteria and viruses can be transmitted from the mouth to the fingers. This could infect the soft tissue surrounding the nail.

Warts around and under the fingernails: Also known as periungual and subungual warts, these lesions can sprout when the human papillomavirus (HPV) or the herpes simplex virus is transmitted from the mouth to the fingers.

Infection of the oral cavity: Bacteria from the fingers can cause gum inflammation, or gingivitis. Bacterial infection may also lead to an abscess, which is a pocket of pus around the tooth.

Damage to teeth: Biting your nails can chip or wear down your teeth. It may also cause teeth crowding (misalignment) and teeth rotation.

Damage to the jaw: Nail biting may be associated with pain and stiffness in the jaw joint, also known as the temporomandibular joint (TMJ).

Habits can be tough to kick, but there are strategies that people use to manage their condition. Some suggestions for keeping your incisors away from your nails include:

Keeping nails clean and trimmed to promote nail hygiene and reduce the risk of infection. Cutting and filing your nails short may also reduce the urge to bite them. For some people, investing in a professional manicure incentivizes them to protect their nails from their teeth.

Applying an unpleasant-tasting nail polish to reduce the satisfaction of nail biting. You may be able to find bitter-tasting nail polish at the pharmacy. Alternatively, you can make your own bitter apple mixture using white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, and water.

Wearing gloves or bandaging fingers to make biting nails more difficult.

Noticing when or why you bite your nails to better understand what techniques may help you quit.

Learning alternative behaviors and habits to replace nail biting. Some people find that keeping their hands busy with crafts like knitting and doodling, or squeezing a squishy stress ball, acts as a good substitute. But if you find yourself yearning for something to chew on, it might be useful to keep chewing gum around for those moments.

While research is still limited, there’s been some discussion about pharmacological treatments for nail biting and other body-focused repetitive behavior disorders. If you feel that you’re having a difficult time stopping nail biting behavior on your own, or if it’s affecting your self-esteem and relationships, speaking to a medical professional may be your best course of action. They may be able to advise you on what treatment options are available and best suited for you. A dermatologist may also be able to evaluate and treat any finger infections or nail injuries that may be affecting your nail growth. Here's to nailing down the solution to your keratin concerns!  

Additional Relevant Topics:

General Health
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