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While many children and teens develop fingernail biting habits, it’s something that most people outgrow.

But for between 10% and 20% of adults, nail biting is a tough habit to shake, and it’s one that can cause embarrassment, physical pain and an increased risk of infections. Fortunately, if you’re determined to break free from a nasty habit, there are some easy self-help steps you can take that and that really work, and if you find that doing it on your own isn’t working and/or if you’ve got a very severe case, there are also psychotherapies and even medications that can make it easier.

In more rare severe cases, compulsive nail biting may become a mental health disorder, with similarities to trichotillomania (hair pulling) or skin picking disorder. Although at this time compulsive nail biting is not yet recognized as a specific disorder in the DSM-IVr, those that treat people with severe compulsive nail biting problems suggest that the condition likely falls somewhere in the obsessive compulsive disorders category umbrella.1

Why Make Such a Big Deal? – The Consequences of Nail Biting!

Nail biting does not result in any serious medical complications, on its own, though it is unsanitary and frequent hand to mouth contact does increase the risk of infections. Other consequences of nail biting can include

  • Red, raw and painful fingertips
  • Skin infections on the fingers
  • Embarrassment
  • Feelings of shame at being unable to control a habit
  • Gum infections and other dental problems

How Many People Bite Their Nails, and Why Do They Do It?

Nail biting is a very common phenomenon.

  • 28% to 33% of children aged 7 to 10 bite their nails
  • 44% of teens do it
  • 19% to 29% of young adults bite their fingernails
  • Between 10% and 20% of fully grown men and women continue to bite their fingernails2

People bite their nails both consciously and unconsciously. Nail biting often occurs when you are:

  • Stressed
  • Anxious
  • Bored
  • Excited

Nail biting can be soothing in times of stress or anxiety and can offer some degree of stimulation when bored or tired. People with nail biting habits often report feeling a sense of needing to bite their nails and a sense of gratification during and immediately after the act.

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Page last updated Dec 08, 2010

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