Can Nail Biting Be Dangerous?

If you’re a nail biter (or hair twirler or finger tapper), there’s a good chance your habit started during childhood. About half of all adolescents bite their nails, but more than three-fourths of those will give up the habit by age 35 [source: CRS Pediatric Advisor]. Nervous habits like these are unconscious behaviors that we repeat out of anxiety, stress or boredom. Nail biters have what doctors call onychophagia.

For some people, the social stigma and embarrassment over the look of their nails causes them to become depressed, isolated, or avoid activities they would otherwise enjoy. Beyond this, however, is there reason to worry if you regularly bite your nails?

5 Little-Known Risks to Biting Your Nails

Nail biting may actually be harmful to you beyond the emotional effects. For instance…

1. Disease-Causing Bacteria
2. Nail Infections
3. Warts Due to HPV Infections
4. Dental Problems
5. Impaired Quality of Life

Nail Biting Can Be A Mental Disorder?

In 2012, the American Psychiatric Association decided to re-classify nail biting as a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), along with other forms of “pathological grooming.”

If nail biting is taken to the extreme that it is significantly interfering with your life and causing you extreme emotional and physical pain, you could, perhaps, make a case for a psychiatric-disorder connection, but in the majority of cases this appears to be another case of disease mongering to sell more psychiatric drugs.


Article Summary

  • As you bite your nails, you easily transfer bacteria into your mouth and the rest of your body, where they may lead to infections
  • Nail biters are susceptible to paronychia, a skin infection that occurs around your nails
  • Nail biting may cause your teeth to shift out of their proper position, become misshapen, wear down prematurely, and become weakened
  • People who chronically bite their nails report significantly higher quality of life impairment than those who do not
  • The American Psychiatric Association re-classified nail biting as a form of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), along with other forms of “pathological grooming” – but for most people nail biting is simply the result of boredom or stress

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