The clinical term for “nail biting” is chronic onychophagia — phew what a mouthful! (Pardon the pun). The nail biting habit is closely related to the finger or skin picking habit and often is caused by the same things — boredom, nervousness and stress. As statistics show, most people bite their nails at least a little bit — and the list of famous nail biters is actually quite long.
Causes and Treatments for Routine Nail Biting
The average nail biter is apt to be unconscious of what he or she is doing. Biting the nails is in this case a simple habit, done to alleviate boredom or very mild anxiety. For the “routine” nail biter, simple behavior modification can help. For instance, a person may keep his nails trimmed and carry a nail clipper at all times. Women may opt to manicure their nails regularly, which keeps them looking nice and provides an incentive not to bite them.
Nail biting — along with finger picking — can expose the nail bed to bacteria, nail fungus, and other fingernail diseases. Chewing on the cuticles can expose them to bacterial infections such as paronychia. The damage done can also be unsightly and embarrassing — this in itself can lead to a spiral of guilt — and even more picking to alleviate the stress and shame of having done damage.
The best may to deal with nail-biting is not to treat it as an abnormality. In fact, it’s a very mainstream habit. As a child, my mother constantly nagged me and helped reinforce the habit. The more she nagged, the more I wanted to bite my nails. Worst still, I took up biting my toenails. Today I’m a successful married professional who bites his nails. While some may not like it, it’s as incidental to most people as it is to me. I applaud anyone who attempts to stop and is successful. But for compulsive nail-biters who cannot curb the habit, my advice is not to feel guilty or ashamed. You can be happy and successful whether or not you bite your nails.